Barren Elizabeth: Meditations on Hope

“But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.” - Luke 1:7

What a lifetime of sorrow there is in these verses. How long had it taken for Elizabeth and Zechariah's youthful innocence to fade, tarnished and battered by months and years of dashed hope?

Had they blamed each other? Had they blamed God? Was Elizabeth fearful, bracing herself for the day Zechariah would leave her to find someone who could give him a male heir?

What rituals and remedies did they try as they desperately grasped at slivers of hope?

How many stares and half-heard whispers reminded them of their shame? How many accusations pointed fingers at imagined sins that had closed her womb? How many prying meddlers poked at the oozing sore that was Elizabeth’s heart?

How many tears had Elizabeth cried? As she watched her sisters and cousins and friends have their children in succession? As she listened to their little voices, their playful laughter echo in her empty house? As she watched these children grow, these children have children of their own?

Had Elizabeth come, as Hannah had done, weeping before the Lord, praying for Him to remember her? Had she felt, as Rachel had, that she would die if she was not given a child?

Each month, she bled out the hope of a life within, watching dreams of a child seep from her body. She watched her body slowly wither with age, until it was finally dry, empty, barren, until all glimmers of hope that maybe someday something would change were gone.

winter-landscape-2995987_960_720.jpg

And yet. And yet in this place of decades-long waiting, in this fragile place in Elizabeth and Zechariah’s heart where all hope had faded, the Lord would appear. He would appear, and He would give them a son.

Is it any wonder that Zechariah had a lot of questions to ask when the angel came to announce this to him? Is it any wonder he gawked at the possibility? After so many years, is it surprising he was skeptical?

Is it any wonder that Elizabeth hid herself for five months, treasuring the moment she’d longed for over a lifetime, hiding herself from further spectacle?

Someone this week said that grief and hope are two sides of the same coin. It is our lack—the grief, the longing, the unanswered questions—that provides ground for our hope to stand. Hope stands in this barren wilderness, and it defiantly and faith-fully sees a garden, rich, fruitful, alive. Hope stands in burned out ruins and refuses to accept that blackened shell as the end of the story. Hope inspires praise when our hands are still empty and our hearts still broken. Hope remains expectant, ready and waiting when the Lord makes His appearance.

And appear He will, though it may be in the most unexpected, impossible, and incomprehensible of places. In the womb of a barren woman. In the womb of a virgin.

Everyday Disciple: Joshua's Story

This post is part of an on-going Everyday Disciple series. We're celebrating here what it looks like to follow Christ faithfully in the day-to-day. I am thankful to share the stories of gracious friends and readers, and I have sought to preserve and honor their voice in the post below. I invite you to join me as we listen to their experience as an "everyday disciple."


Scott and I had the privilege of working with Josh at camp. They were high school friends and spurred one another on in their passion for discipleship. I was glad when Josh contacted me to share his thoughts about how his work in a cabinet shop relates to this on-going concern for seeing disciples of Christ thrive and grow. I hope you enjoy his insight.

* * *

When I was in high school, I was passionate about discipleship. Following Christ meant far more than being a part of weekly youth group. It meant finding ways to serve, to study and meditate the way of Christ, and to encourage others in that same path. 

When discipleship is a passion of yours, and you strongly desire to see others follow Christ, the stereotypical conclusion is that you should pursue ministry. Following conventional wisdom, I went to college with plans to be a youth pastor or potentially an associate pastor.

Over those years of schooling, I worked a fulltime ministry job for a year and got married, all while continuing to grow in my own personal walk with Christ and in what it looks like to follow Him. Our little family began to grow, and I began to prioritize time for my family. In a very real sense family is a significant ministry, a kind of intensive discipleship, and I wanted to make sure I was not absent from that.

josh work.jpg

At first glance, it might not seem to make a lot of sense, why a college graduate with a Bible degree is working in cabinet shop, though the story about how I got there is relatively simple. I wanted a job close to home, with reasonable hours. I have always enjoyed creating and had recently begun a few woodworking projects. So, I stopped in at a cabinet shop a mile or two down the road and started working there shortly thereafter.

Some have said working with wood is a meditative experience. When sanding, finishing, or building, there are ample opportunities to, as Brother Lawrence writes about, “practice the presence of God.” To experience Christ in your work, as you shape the wood, by meditating on who He is, or on what you have been learning or studying recently. In the Gospels, we read that Jesus was a carpenter before He started His ministry, the son of a carpenter. There is something wholesome in creating, in crafting with your hands. In small ways we follow in the footsteps of our Creator when we use our God-given creativity.

When you work with wood, especially with fine trim carpentry or cabinetry, a lot of time is spent on the finishing process—the sanding, staining, etc. While this kind of work requires a lot of attention to detail, it is not a brain-intensive job, which frees my mind to meditate and pray. Recently God has really placed on my heart a burden for the Syrian refugees. So, as I sand doors or cabinets, I pray and meditate on it, seeking the Lord’s face on behalf of these downtrodden people and asking how I can help. 

While this is good, however, what about my hopes of making disciples? What about that passion I had before? Were those four years of schooling a waste? Shouldn’t I be putting my degree to work?

For some, your passion and purpose in regards to seeking to be and make disciples plays directly into your work. However, I view work differently.

While there is something to be said for the sacredness of working with your hands to bring glory to God, for me, I work with my hands to free myself to do discipleship outside of work. We see Paul’s example through the book of Acts as a tentmaker—he had a simple trade profession he used to support himself while he discipled and taught. For me, I view my work, enjoyable and grace-filled as it is, in the same way. I work to, simply, provide for my family, so we are not a burden as I seek to make disciples and to teach.

We are a part of a small church that believes strongly in the priesthood of the believer as described by the writer of the book of Hebrews. The reality is this, when it comes to the Church: Everyone has a part to play. In Ephesians 4, Paul writes about the gifts that Christ has given to the church—apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, teachers. These gifts present in the body of believers ought to be exercised.

While my Bible training has little influence in my work on a professional level (though I would argue, that the time spent studying and learning has been valuable and has informed my thoughts and beliefs), it does not go to waste. I share in the responsibility of preaching/teaching at our small church, along with several others. In a real sense, one could describe my work and life as that of a “tent-making” missionary, which I would argue is a description that might well apply to each of us. 

One does not need to go into ministry to minister. One does not need to be a pastor to preach.  God has equipped His people to do the work of His kingdom. In light of this view, then, my work is not an end to itself, but simply a means of support for my family, as I seek to be faithful to the gifts He has given me. As a disciple of Christ, learning to abide in Him, my work is an exercise in grace, and in meditation. Though I view my work in more utilitarian terms, there is still a richness there that cannot be denied. In little ways throughout our days, we are to walk the path of discipleship. Every experience and task can be used to the glory of God. We need to be faithful to the gifts God has given us.


If you would like to be a part of this project, I would love to hear your story. Contact me for more information.

Friday Morning Coffee #46: Don't Sanitize the Christmas Story

I'm thinking today about how easy it is to sanitize the Christmas story. We like the warm glow of a traditional manger scene, with Mary looking rosy cheeked, Joseph proudly standing behind her, the shepherds kneeling with fluffy perfectly white sheep, farm animals quietly standing guard. It's cozy and clean and strangely inviting. It's a "silent night." But it's hardly realistic. 

I was struck by the crazy dynamics at play this week as I read through the accounts in Matthew and Luke of the events surrounding Jesus' birth. Mary is pregnant out of wedlock, to an unknown father. Joseph, since he's kind, doesn't demand to have her stoned for adultery (which most think would have been within his rights), and instead plans to quietly divorce her. He's only stopped by angelic intervention. And this is only the beginning. 

There's a census demanded by a foreign ruling empire. There's the pain and mess and labor of childbirth - in a home that's not their own. There's the thick smell of animals and the wildness of their poor guardians. There's a murderous king on a killing rampage.

When I think of it, it's a perfectly human scene. It's humanity in its simple, humble form, humanity in its struggle. This is the scene of Christ's birth. And it's perfectly fitting. 

When I think only of the picturesque Nativity, it feels remote. It feels too perfect for my own experience. It feels too sheeny in its glow to reach to the pain of my world. 

But when I think of Mary, laboring to birth the Creator of the world, smiling in sweet exhaustion when He's first placed in her arms. When I think of Joseph, nervous and pacing in anticipation of the birth of the Savior. When I think of the shepherds, poor and "unclean" being invited to see a child in a place and position not so far removed from their own. When I think of the Christ child's fragile, fresh skin... I see a Savior who came to us in our true human state - in the mess and the miracle that is our life. And I find great comfort there. 

I'd encourage you to sit down this weekend and read the story of Christ's birth. Shake off the sanitized versions you've seen portrayed - and see the real color and humanity of the story. See the One who humbled Himself to become like us, to meet us as we are. And rejoice. 

How Silently the Wondrous Gift is Given

I was talking with a friend a few weeks ago about the kingdom of God. “If an alien would arrive on the planet and look around to decide who was the King here, it certainly wouldn’t look like it’s Jesus,” she commented. I’ve been thinking about this statement a lot this Advent season.

pexels-photo-237180.jpg

Perhaps I’ll (we’ll) never fully understand why God chooses to work the way He does. Why does He always seem to choose the quiet, hidden ways of working in the world?

“How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given,” we sing. And silent it was.

At Jesus’ first coming, He, the timeless God, broke into time to the moans of a woman in labor. Angels announced His arrival, but their message was heard by social outcasts who smelled ripe of animals. He, the rightful divine King of Israel, was welcomed by pagan wise men of other kingdoms and sought out to be murdered by his own.

He was the supposed-illegitimate son of a teenage peasant girl, who was newly married to a carpenter from the backwoods of a great empire. He was a child of a people who had been ruled and dominated by superpowers for centuries.

To anyone looking on, the baby boy Jesus in the manger was a nobody. But this simple Jewish boy was the Son of God, Israel’s Messiah, the Savior of the world, God veiled in human flesh.

At that first coming, He was hidden. But He was not invisible. He could be seen by those who were looking for him. He could be seen by those who were humble enough to receive him.

By Mary, willing to endure the shame and risk of an unmarried pregnancy, ready to be the servant of the Lord.

By Joseph, obedient to an angelic dream.

By the shepherds, who received the first news of Jesus’ birth and were His first missionaries.

By Simeon and Anna in the temple, who had waited long and faithfully for God’s promises to be fulfilled.

He still works this way—in faith as small as a mustard seed, in a treasure hidden in a field, in child-like trust. He chose—and chooses—disciples who are unworthy and ill-equipped and calls them to follow. He works now, quietly, often hidden…but not invisible.

Why does He choose this way? Is it to call us to deeper faith? Is it to not overwhelm us with His might? Is it because He knows our hearts must be won gently, with sacrifice, not with power and coercion? I don’t know.

But I do know that it calls me to humility, to remember that “He chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are” (1 Cor. 1:27-28).

It calls me to faith, to trust in His slow work, to look with eyes of faith to see where He’s working.

And it calls me to hope in that second coming, for the day when He will return and be seen by every eye. For the day when there will be no doubt who is King.

Everyday Disciple: Emily's Story

This post is part of an on-going Everyday Disciple series. We're celebrating here what it looks like to follow Christ faithfully in the day-to-day. I am thankful to share the stories of gracious friends and readers, and I have sought to preserve and honor their voice in the post below. I invite you to join me as we listen to their experience as an "everyday disciple."


I was so excited when Emily first emailed me to share about her experience working as a civil engineer in construction. It’s a world I’m definitely unfamiliar with, and I was delighted to hear her stories. I hope her enthusiasm about her work and the ways God is at work in it bring your heart as much joy as it has brought mine. 

* * *

I wish you could see the beauty in construction. Yes, the same noisy, annoying, dirty, nuisance-on-your-way-to-work construction. I wish you could see the beauty in the act of creating something that has, up to that point, only been imagined by other human beings. Or of the circus act of moving parts and personalities working towards a common goal. Of the countless numbers of people who have touched a building along a processing line, operating trucks across the country, or eventually installing it in the field with their own hands. I wish you could see, behind the test of patience, the beautiful story of creation and growth and relationships behind each construction project.

At first, I didn’t think I had the personality for the construction industry. But God led me to this career, and in spite of my hesitation, since I took my job in construction project management, I have discovered what God already knew, that this was the perfect job for me. 

Emily Philpot word.JPG

I love that each project I work on is completely unique and requires a team effort and accountability. My job requires constant problem solving, and I can see the physical results of the planning efforts of my team. To start with a blank piece of land and end with a brand-new structure that will be enjoyed by others is very fulfilling to me.

I have learned that good construction work (as with many other industries) is all about sustaining good relationships between all individuals involved in the process. In construction, there are many different parties with many different interests: architects, engineers, owners (clients), end users, subcontractors, inspectors, and the individual workers in the field. My unique job as a Construction Manager is to serve as a mediator and conduit of information between all these different groups. Knowing God, and therefore knowing how I should act as a Christian, helps me to approach each meeting without preconceived judgements or only my own agenda, and implores me to treat each person respectfully and fairly. I have many opportunities to model right relationships, just by showing up to work and doing my job.  

In tenuous and stressful situations (where time and money are on the line) there is always a temptation to make quick decisions or take the easy way out, cutting corners. This often has fatal consequences if done during the construction process (whether it is risking the safety of workers, or the ultimate performance of the structure). Christianity calls me to be truthful in all my dealings and strengthens me to honor God in these circumstances by acting with integrity.

When I read the first post in this series, I thought of how God uniquely placed me, with my particular industry skillset, in the church that I am currently attending. I’ve struggled to know where my gifts and passions fit into the Body. When I first joined the church about four years ago, I was not aware of the Building Committee’s Master Plan process.  When it was revealed to the congregation, I felt as if my heart would burst out of my chest at the thought of possibly being involved in the construction of this grand plan.  

Looking back, God was carving a path through specific experiences I had had during the first few years at my company to ultimately allow me to serve on the church’s "Building Committee." One by one, the pieces aligned, and I eventually was asked to join the Building Committee with just enough construction experience under my belt to be helpful. We are now in the construction phase of the new parking lot around our current church and despite the fact that this might sound boring to most people, it is such an honor to be part of this process. I have never felt more fulfilled in my work than knowing I can simply be used in this way as a member of the church body for the glory of God’s kingdom.

Our church’s motto is to “know Christ and make Him known,” and this can be done anywhere. I can do this while using my “ever day job” skills for His glory while serving my church through its building projects. And I can do this as I am a presence for God’s Body and represent the church in the construction field. You never know how God will use your passions for His glory.


If you would like to be a part of this project, I would love to hear your story. Contact me for more information.