Advent 2022 – Gabriel’s Announcement

“The Annunciation” by Leonardo da Vinci

Day 1: Read Luke 1:26-38

She stood in the dim light of the early morning with her hand over her belly and her heart full of awe and wonder at the life growing within her.  It was all so surreal.  She tried to remember every detail but it was so wonderful and frightening at the same time.  She had heard a rustling beside her and turned to see a man – but not a man – an angel?  Yes, it was an angel; he said his name was Gabriel and he called her “highly favored,” but surely he meant someone else.  She was a peasant girl from the nothing town of Nazareth.  Her highest goal was to marry Joseph and have a family.  She pulled her cloak tighter around her and noticed that she was trembling  – fear mixed with excitement ran like shockwaves through her small frame. But the angel said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.  You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus” (Luke 1:30).  Mary pointed out that she was a virgin, wondering – not if – but how this would happen.  He spoke of the Holy Spirit, an overshadowing, and the impossible becoming a reality.  Then the angel said the most remarkable thing – that this child would “be called the Son of God” (v. 35).  Oh my!  Did he mean that she – Mary of Nazareth – would be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah? It was every Jewish girl’s dream. 

In the stillness of the morning, the angel’s announcement still rang in her ears.  She repeated aloud the words she said to him that day as if reassuring herself and reaffirming her willingness, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said” (v. 38).

Mary’s quiet, well-planned life was suddenly interrupted by God.  She was put in a most scandalous situation, one that could have cost her her beloved Joseph, and possibly even her life. It was an inconvenience, to say the least. Yet she humbly surrendered herself to the will of God and embraced an unknown future with awe and wonder and faith. Beloved, has God interrupted your life with something unexpected – something inconvenient, perhaps even shocking?   It may be a person, a diagnosis, a major change, or a great sorrow.  How will you respond? With fear and anxiety? Or with faith and humble surrender?  Are you willing to be the Lord’s servant?

Give Thanks

On this Thanksgiving Day I am drawn to 1 Chronicles 16:41: “With them were  . . . those chosen and designated by name to give thanks to the Lord, ‘for His love endures forever.’” Let me set the scene for you.  The Ark of the Covenant, the one element of the tabernacle that was God’s special seat, had been captured by Israel’s enemy, the Philistines.  David set out to bring the Ark home, and the people and their king were ecstatic. They celebrated the return of the Ark with sacrifices, offerings, praise, and joyful thanks. David crafted a beautiful Psalm of Thanks, which I encourage you to read in its entirety (1 Chronicles 16:7-36).

After the Ark was securely in its place in the tabernacle, David chose a group of priests to minister daily before the Lord, “To present burnt offerings . . . morning and evening, in accordance with . . .the Law” (v. 40). That was a crucial position in the spiritual life of the nation. But look again at verse 41.  Do you see that there were specific priests who were “chosen…to give thanks to the Lord”?  Their sole responsibility was to express gratitude to the Lord who was again dwelling among His people. They led the Israelites in exclamations of thanks with trumpets and cymbals and sacred songs. Theirs was a sacred responsibility.

Did you know that you and I are chosen by God to be His royal priests?  Peter said, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light” (1 Pet 2:9). Jesus has provided the sacrifice, so the only priestly duty that is left is thanksgiving.  We have been chosen to lead our families, churches, communities, and nations in gratitude to the God who created us, sustains us, provides for us, and, most importantly, saved us.  We have been chosen to be thankful people. In the days of King David, the Ark was the assurance of God’s presence with His people, and they were grateful for His return. Today we have God’s presence in the indwelling Holy Spirit – and no one can take Him away. He will always be with us. And one day we will forever be with Him. Now that, Beloved, is something to be thankful for.

More Than Words

The more tired she is the more Joy fights sleep. I suppose she doesn’t want to miss a thing around her. When she was just a baby I would snuggle her close in the rocking chair and give her her bottle. She would drink just a little, pull away, then immediately complain because she didn’t have her bottle. I’d plug it back in and say, “You’re the one who turned away from it sweetie.” We would repeat this cycle several times until she finally gave up and drifted off.

This little ritual reminds me of people who complain, “I don’t feel God anymore. I don’t think God cares about me. Why does God not love me?” The first thing I ask them is, “What is God saying to you in His Word?” And they answer, “Oh, I haven’t read the Bible in a while – I know I should, I just haven’t felt like it.” DING-DING-DING! They just answered their own question. They don’t “feel” God or think he cares about nor loves them because they have turned away from the very place they find Him.

God gave the Israelites His commandments and His Law so that they would obey Him. But it was about more than just compliance, it was about knowing Him. The closer they lived to the commands of God, the more He revealed Himself to them. They came to know God by knowing and obeying His Words. Moses declared to them, “The word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” (Deut 30:14).

The Word of God has never been more readily available than it is today. The Scriptures are literally at our fingertips, in printed form, electronic media, by audio and video – and in almost every language on earth. You can have it any way you want it. But you have to want it. You have to pick up the book or open the app or pull up the podcast. You have to make God’s Word a priority in your life. The less you read, the less you want to read.  And the converse is true: the more you read, the more you want to read.

The Bible is not just a bunch of stories and rules and words on paper. It is the true and living Word of God (Heb 4:12), inspired and empowered by the Spirit of God (2 Pet 1:20-21) and embodied in Jesus Christ, the Son of God (John 1:14). Have you turned away from the very thing your spirit is craving? Come back to the Bible, Beloved. “These are not just idle words for you, they are your life” (Deut 32:47).

How to (not)Resist Temptation

I love fall. I love the colors of the leaves (even though they don’t change here in the deep south). I love the cool, crisp bite of the morning air. I love back-to-school season. I love the ground carpeted with shed leaves. I love college football. I love to watch the harvesters at work in the fields, bringing their bounty to bless the world. Except for peanuts. Oh, I love to eat peanuts. But the nut is produced under the soil and the farmer has to turn the plants over to harvest the crop, which releases all kinds of things into the air – like mold – to which I am highly allergic. And I live in the peanut capital of the world. Achoo! And yet I keep the window in my study open to enjoy the aforementioned cool, crisp air. I know. That’s pretty stupid. Just like standing in the path of temptation.

The mainstay of Christian conviction has always been  “Resist temptation!”  But the Bible says we are to run from temptation.  We are told to “flee from sexual immorality” and “idolatry” (1 Corinthians 6:18; 10:14); “flee from greed [the love of money]” (1 Timothy 6:10,11); and “flee from evil desires” (2 Timothy 2:22).  Why flee? James said we are all “tempted when, by [our] own evil desire, [we] are dragged away and enticed” (1:14). Our evil desires are internal. We have to flee from temptation because it is tapping into those desires. That’s why you can’t stand in front of temptation and try to talk yourself out of it – you have to get away from it. If your flesh is agreeing with the thing in front of you, run. You are standing on dangerous ground.

I knew a man who drove six miles out of his way on his daily route just to avoid driving past a bar he used to frequent in his drinking days. He knew the desire was always in him so he detoured away from the temptation. He took Paul’s word to heart: “when you are tempted, [God] will provide a way out” (1 Corinthians 10:13). The way out for him was an alternative – if longer – route. A married woman quit her lucrative job to distance herself from a coworker to whom she was attracted. Another man gave up his smartphone with internet capabilities for a simple call-and-text-only phone to avoid the pull of pornography.

Jesus wants you and me to be victorious over temptation. He gave us His Holy Spirit to empower us to do just that. But we still have to put distance between ourselves and temptation. If I want to stop sneezing I’ve got to close the window. Beloved, If you want to stop falling into sin take the way out. Take the long way home. Change your job. Cancel the subscription. Change your phone. Cry out to Jesus for help. Then run.

Seeking Jesus

“Why are you here?” I asked my class asked one Sunday morning. After a minute someone said, “Because it’s Sunday morning and I’ve gone to church every Sunday for my whole life.” Another answered, “I am here for the fellowship of my church family.” Others chimed in: “I’m here because the Bible said ‘Forsake not the assembling of your selves together.’” “I am here to be fed in my spirit.”

I recalled this conversation while reading John 6. Jesus confronted the crowd that followed Him after He had fed more than five thousand people the day before (John 6:1-13). When they came looking for Him Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill” (v. 26).

Now verse 2 said that the people “saw” the miraculous signs He had performed.” So what did Jesus mean? Here’s where the Spirit stirred up the word nerd in me and said, “Saw?” The word used in verse 2 is to see as a spectator, to view with the eyes. But the word that John used in verse 26 means to discern clearly, to behold – to experience. It’s like the difference between watching a football game from the stands and playing it on the field. You can be a fan, but until you put the pads on and take the hits and cross the goalline with the ball in your hand you haven’t experienced the game. The crowd has seen with their eyes the miracles of Jesus – healing the sick and feeding the multitudes – but they did not understand what the signs were pointing to because they did not see them with their hearts. They were fans, but they hadn’t experienced Jesus.

The Lord said they were back because He fed their bellies and they expected more of the same, but if they had looked with faith – if they had experienced Him – they would know Him. They would follow Him because He is the very Son of God and the only means to eternal life.

You and I need to seek Christ for who He is, not just for what he can do for us – to know Him for the Joy of His presence, and not only for His presents. I can find nowhere in Scripture that God says, “I want You to know all I can do for you.” But I lost count after 200 times that I read “That you may know Me…” In knowing God, we discover what He can do, but if we are only seeking Him for what we can gain we have missed the whole point of the relationship.

Beloved, why are you seeking Jesus?

Jesus in Your Shoes

All across this nation, the anti-Christian machine is working to shut out every mention of God and deny the rights of Christians to express our beliefs. Nativity scenes are banned from the public square, or equal space must be given to anti-Christian displays. The Ten Commandments are being removed from government facilities, and students in school are forbidden to give reference to their faith. Lawmakers are pushing to ban all teaching of “religious doctrine.” God is unwelcome and unwanted in this country.

But don’t miss what John said, “The One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Brothers and sisters, don’t forget that the Spirit of Christ dwells in you. Everywhere you go you take Jesus with you. So as believers, we take Jesus into the marketplace and the government sector. Students take Jesus into their school. Employees bring Jesus to work.

The Lord declared that His followers are ”the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matt 5:13, 14). Salt is our witness in the world. Light’s purpose is to shine in the darkness (John 1:5a). Salt is essential for life in general. It is one of the oldest and most universal food seasonings and methods of food preservation. Saltiness is one of the basic human tastes and it makes us thirsty. Here in the deep south, boiled peanuts are a favorite snack, but you’d better have a drink nearby because properly prepared boiled peanuts are very salty.  A salty Christian seasons the world with love, Joy, kindness, grace, compassion, and the good news of the gospel. They preserve the character of Christ in a tasteless culture and a properly prepared Christ-follower makes others thirsty for the Living Water.

From creation, light’s purpose is to shine in the darkness (John 1:5a). Light has power over darkness (John 1:5b) because darkness is nothing more than the absence of light. When light is introduced into the darkness, darkness no longer exists. That means you and I have power over darkness – not our own power, but Christ’s. The world is a very dark place. Evil is everywhere. But you and I have the His light to overcome evil and darkness. When we shine with His light, the darkness has no choice but to flee. And when we shine with His light every eye will be drawn – not to us – but to the Source of the Light.  

Sure, they can ban public displays of Christianity, but by your presence as a Christian, Beloved, Jesus still walks through this nation – in your shoes.

Sit Up Straight!

I am wearing a Holter monitor for the next thirty days. It is a mobile telemetry system that works like a continuous EKG. The monitor is stuck to my chest over my heart by a patch with leads that sends signals to a cellphone that records what the monitor detects. When I bend over or sit less than straight, the phone emits a piercing sound that tells me the monitor is out of position. All. The. Time. It just went off again. It’s driving me crazy.

But it’s also doing something else. It’s making me very aware of my posture. If I want to keep this thing quiet – and Lord knows I do – I have to sit very straight. That’s not natural to me. I tend to slump when I’m sitting, especially when I’m studying or working on my laptop, as I am now. I remember my mother constantly telling me to sit up straight as a kid. It clearly didn’t stick with me. Slumping is my norm – and it’s got to change or I will be a basket case when my thirty days are up.

What possible spiritual application can I get from a heart monitor? Simply this – some of us are going through our lives with a spiritual slump, and that’s got to change. One of Paul’s mantras was “once you were” – “but now you are” (Col 1:21-22). He contrasted life before and after Christ. But he said some of us are still behaving by our old nature. Once we were sexually immoral, evil, full of rage and malice, slanderous, idolaters, drunkards, practicing witchcraft. Those are pretty extreme aren’t they, but what about being impure and lustful, greedy, angry, using filthy language, lying, jealous, selfish, and causing disagreements (Col 3:5-9; Gal 5:19-21 adapted)? Did you squirm at a few of those like I did? Some of us are still slumping because it’s an old habit.

“But now,” he said, we “live a life worthy of the Lord, pleasing Him in every way, bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power” (Col 1:22). Because of Jesus and His Spirit in us, now we are full of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal 5:22-23). We don’t have to be who we were. We can be who we are now.

This monitor has gone off three more times as I’ve been writing this. I keep forgetting to keep my back straight. By the end of this though, I bet it will be my new normal. I wonder if the Spirit had a monitor on me how many times it would go off in a day. Beloved, let’s become very aware of our spiritual posture and start living like who we are now. “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light” (Eph 5:8).

Fill My Cup, Lord

“He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things” (Psalm 107:9)

I used to spend my days wandering around with my empty cup of needs, imploring everyone I met to pour a little something in. No, I didn’t have an actual tin cup and I didn’t beg for alms. What I needed money could not fix. “Might you have some peace you could give me? “Can you spare a little hope?” “I could really use some Joy.” “You sure seem happy – could you share some of that with me?  And the gaping hole in my soul kept me constantly asking, “Please, do you have some love for me?” I cringe now when I realize how needy and desperate – and probably annoying – I was.

I’d like to claim that those were “pre-Jesus days” when I didn’t know Christ, but it wasn’t. I was in church every Sunday, sang in the choir, attended every women’s ministry event, and wore a cross on a chain every day. But I still felt like I had to run to people and beg for what I needed. If a kind soul put something in, I came back to them again and again and again. One, because I had found a source, and two because whatever they put in didn’t last very long. And that was by design. It wasn’t supposed to last because their offerings were human. I needed something more. One day I heard a song and the lightbulb went off.

Fill my cup Lord, I lift it up, Lord!

Come and quench this thirsting of my soul;

Bread of heaven, Feed me till I want no more–

Fill my cup, fill it up and make me whole!

Richard Blanchard – “Fill My Cup, Lord”

I realized that only He could fill my empty cup – and keep it full. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matt 5:6). How? By His Spirit. Acts 13:52 says, “the disciples were filled with Joy and with the Holy Spirit.”  He alone can fill the holes in my heart and soul because He is what I need. He is my source of peace and hope and Joy and love. 

I pray you have found Him to be yours too. And I pray that His Spirit fills you and spills out on those around you. “May the God of all hope fill you, Beloved, with all Joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom 15:13).

Christ in You

It’s in the music on Christian radio. It’s in the studies on the shelves of Christian books stores. It’s in the podcasts and messages by Christian speakers. What is it? Me, me, me. I recently discovered a 90’s channel on my favorite Christian radio station. I’m a sucker for nostalgia so I listened to the music of my early days in the faith and quickly noticed a huge difference in the songs. The older music was much more Christ-centric. It was true worship music – who Jesus is and what He has done in His power and holiness. I flipped back to the current channel and the theme of the music was who Jesus is – to me, and what He has done – for me, and how He makes me feel. The studies that Christian publishers produce follow the same format. It’s all designed to invoke feelings, but it falls short of truth. Now I’m not a fuddy-duddy here to complain about the younger generation. I am a Bible teacher and I’m here to turn your focus from self to the Savior.

Charles Spurgeon said, “My faith rests not upon what I am or shall be or feel or know, but in what Christ is, in what He has done. Hallelujah!” So should ours. In his letter to the Colossian church, Paul said the most glorious mystery man can ever know is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27). Think about that. Christ. In you.

Christ in you means that “your spirit is alive because of righteousness” (Rom 8:10). The very same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead now lives in you (v. 11). Christ in you means that you can live by faith and walk in God’s love (Gal 2:20). Christ in you means that His power is at work within you, strengthening you in your inner being (Eph 3:16). Christ in you means that God’s glory is yours. Jesus said, “I have given them the glory that You gave me, that they may be one as we are one. I in them and You in me” (John 17:22-23).

Christ in you means that have “the mind of Christ” (I Cor 2:16). Whoa! And Christ did not think about Himself. Listen to Paul again: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself . . . “ (Phil 2:5-8). And so must we. Sing about Christ. Study Christ. Hear the words of Christ. Christ is in you, Beloved. Now that’s something to sing about!

Feed Me!

Isn’t it amazing how God can speak to our hearts through anything? That is, if we’re willing to listen. My cat, Celina is often one of my most practical spiritual mentors. She doesn’t really have a lot to say, but she beats one drum constantly: Feed me. When anyone walks into the kitchen she stands by her food dish and meows – even when there is plenty of food in there. She expects a fresh scoop every time.

Where am I going with this? How often do you and I approach our daily Bible reading without our whole heart’s focus? I’m guilty. I look at the words on the page but my mind is elsewhere. I have to go back and re-read a verse – sometimes multiple times – because I wasn’t paying attention to it the first time around. The prophet Jeremiah said, “When your words came, I ate them; they were my Joy and my heart’s delight” (Jer 15:16). What a different perspective from most of us.

Maybe we need a reminder that when we come to the Bible we are coming to our Creator’s own Word, emanating from His own heart. What could be more important? Certainly nothing on FaceBook or Twitter. Why aren’t we giving the Scriptures our undivided attention? I’m preaching to myself here. One of the reasons I started writing the Scriptures out is to slow myself down and focus on every word. Oh, my goodness, the wonders we are missing because we’re so distracted.

Here’s what I am going to do – and I challenge and encourage you to do it too: First I will get up early to spend focused time with the Lord. When I sit down to take in God’s Word, I will silence and cover my phone. I will turn off the sound on my laptop. I will pray two things specifically: that the Holy Spirit will protect my mind from distractions, and that God will “open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law” (Ps 119:18). Then I will dig in.

The Bible is not just “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.” This is the Word of God. This is the heart of God. Beloved, “These are not just idle words for you—they are your life” (Deut 32:47). Like Celina, come to the Bible expecting a fresh and tasty Word. He will feed you as often as you want.