As I write this, we are standing right on the edge of a brand new year - 2022! We have just celebrated the momentous gift of Christmas, and rejoice in the beautiful truth that God so loved the world that He gave His Son, not to condemn us, but to save us. I love that right after the high holy days of Christmas comes a season of renewal and recommitment as we begin a new year. This always feels like a clean slate, and an opportunity to start fresh; a hopeful time to reset and refocus.
Eli and I returned a few weeks ago from a visit to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This beautiful country, which has so long been locked away from outsiders, is opening its doors so that people can come see the rich history and mystery of this ancient land for themselves. The current monarch has bold and sweeping plans for progress and economic expansion, and is extending tourist visas.
I was so surprised at the beauty of this place. In my mind it was all desert and vast sand dunes, and while it is true that one section of the country is that, much of the land is marked by rugged mountains and breathtaking beauty.
We were able to tour many fascinating sites, mostly along the west coast and near the Gulf of Aqaba branch of the Red Sea (pictured above, with Egypt in the distance.) There is rich history all across that region, as the northwestern part of Saudi is the ancient land of Midian, home to Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law. It was so interesting to be able to see so much history and beauty for ourselves.
Much more than access to the scenery, it was wonderful to have a glimpse into the stirrings of the Christian Church in what is currently the very heart of Islam. The statistics say that of roughly 30 million people in Saudi Arabia, about 20 million of them are actually Saudi while the rest are expatriates. Many of these people come from places like India and the Philippines and other nearby countries, and a good number are followers of Jesus. But it is not common for the expatriates to share their faith, so there are very few Christians among the local people. But, thank God, some amazing people have moved there, not just to live and work, but also to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. We were so privileged to meet a few new believers, and to hear their stories. God is moving and stirring this ancient land and people.
We saw so many things during our trip, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to have gone. As I reflected, I was struck by the fact that the entire time we were there, we only had opportunity to interact with one local woman. The men are out and about, and the towns and the villages were bustling with their activity, but we rarely even saw any women let alone interacted with them. Most of the women and girls that we did see were fully covered with a black abaya and hijab. We could see only their eyes, which looked straight ahead and down. I was very humbled by this. I cannot say that I know what any of those women or girls actually think or feel, but I know very well what it made me think and feel.
This fall, I have used this blog space to write some thoughts about Christian morality, contemplating how wonderful it would be for our nation to have a real repentance from our selfishness and pride, and a real return to biblical principles. After our trip, I am even more grateful than ever for the blessing it is to live in this country. And I am more aware than ever of what it means when the Bible says it is for freedom he has set us free.
I am grateful that my children and friends have always been able to see my uncovered face. I am grateful that I have been able to go to school, and to have a job, and to go wherever I like whenever I feel like it. I am grateful that I can shake hands and speak with anyone that I meet. I am grateful to be able to go into my church to worship God and to fellowship with my brothers and sisters in Christ. I am so thankful that in a few days I will even be standing behind a pulpit, sharing the good news of Jesus with men and women alike.
I have been loved and cherished and encouraged first by my father, and now by my husband. I have never been made to feel less-than or second class; rather I have always felt very seen and heard and appreciated. I know that it is only Jesus who has made it possible for us to have a free and unrestricted country like we do. In the same way, t is only the grace and love of Jesus which has made it possible for me to have an amazing and fulfilling life, and I am so grateful that my daughters and granddaughter and sister and friends have all of those opportunities as well.
But we must not forget that with our freedom comes a great responsibility to protect it. We must not believe the lie that freedom has no boundaries at all.
Imagine a broad hilltop, covered with beautiful green grass, flowering fruit trees and all good pleasures known to mankind. Around the perimeter of the hilltop is a tall fence, erected long ago. One day, suddenly unsatisfied with the wonders in their garden, the people on the hilltop decide to leap over the fence. Surely there are even more wonders on the other side. How awful for anyone to constrain everyone like that; how awful to try to keep people from following their own hearts!
Sadly, too late do the people find out that there is nothing but a bottomless void and certain death on the other side of the fence. It was not erected two deprive anyone of anything; rather it was put there to keep everyone safe and flourishing. These are the beautiful boundaries of Christian morality.
I just saw part of the world where a system really does keep everyone submitting and conforming, and that yields no freedom at all. In contrast, I have spent the past few days at a winter conference for university students, where 2000 young people have gathered together to worship and seek Jesus. Many of the altar responses have been absolutely filled with students seeking freedom from horrible, life-gripping addictions and habits. How sad that in our great freedom, we too often sell ourselves into other kinds of bondage and oppression.
But hundreds and hundreds of people have been set free in the past 48 hours. It has been amazing! Hearts and lives are being transformed by the power of God, who alone has the power to deliver us from our sin. It is from this place that we move forward into a new year...
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
- Galatians 5: 1
As the Christmas season draws to a close, and as a brand new year begins, may we be filled with gratitude for all that Jesus has made possible . May we remember what a truly revolutionary thing it was for the son of God to leave glory to come and be born to a young woman in a rude stable the middle of nowhere, so that He could give His own life to save us. May we recommit ourselves to live holy lives worthy of His great sacrifice for our freedom. And may we freely share this good news so that everyone across the world can know the real freedom that Jesus brings.
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Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)
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