And Who Is My Neighbor?

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This week our Ladies studied the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). I ran across this modern adaptation of the parable and it spoke volumes to us. (Disclaimer: This has been edited for space and application.)

[Jesus is speaking to a group of Southern Baptists:]
An elderly couple was mugged and robbed by a group of thieves outside a restaurant. As the couple lay dazed and bleeding on the sidewalk, a Methodist preacher walked toward them on his way to Bible study, but instead of stopping to render aid, he crossed to the other side of the road and continued on his way. A short while later, a couple of Baptist preachers came along, but since they were running late to their prayer meeting, they also crossed over and hurried on their way.
Finally, an atheist came along and felt compassion for the couple. He rendered whatever medical aide he could, then helped them into his van and drove them to the nearest hospital. He paid the deductible cost of their insurance and made arrangements to further pay any amount not covered by their policy
[Jesus then asked], “Which of the people who came upon the couple acted as a neighbor to them?” The Baptist replied, “The one who had mercy on them”. [Jesus then commanded] “Go and do likewise”.

The man who asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” wanted to know whom he was required to “love” according to the Law. Jesus said the point is not the limit of the Law, it is being the one who goes above and beyond in compassion. Beloved, who needs you to be a neighbor today?

The Real Joy of Christmas

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Christmas isn’t always a Currier and Ives painting. Some Christmases are hard, saturated in grief, exhaustion, disappointment, loneliness, struggle, and family drama. I’ve had some of those Christmases – no doubt you’ve had them too. I remember Christmases when my Dad was stationed far away from us, the first Christmas after my Mom died, and Christmases with no tree and no presents because there were no funds. Those were sad holidays, but they were not joyless. I know – that sounds like a contradiction, but the joy of Christmas is not in trees and presents. And while they are (usually) a blessing and a delight at Christmas, our family is not the heart of our joy. Christmas Joy is not found in stores – you can’t even order it from Amazon. And I can guarantee you that it isn’t in “Christmas” themed movies or T.V. specials or over-produced “Christmas” songs.

The true joy of Christmas is the assurance of God’s faithfulness to redeem His people from their sins. That’s exactly what Matthew said in his gospel. The angel who appeared to Joseph said, “[Mary] will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). This baby wasn’t just born to be a king who would rule on a throne. He was born to be the sacrifice for the sins of the world. He was born to break the power of death. John said He came to bring light into our darkness (John 1:4-9). Joy at Christmas comes from understanding our desperate situation before God and then recognizing what He did for us. The truest expression of Christmas joy is not a party or a present – it’s worship. That’s how Mary saw it. She said “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Luke 1:46). Christmas should be a holy celebration, a time when we put aside the tinsel and trappings and bow low before the Baby in the manger. It may never be as perfect as the picture on your Christmas cards, but Beloved, no matter your circumstances in this season, may your Christmas be full of real joy.

Waiting for Jesus

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The old man shuffling through the temple courts was a common sight. You could tell exactly what time of day it was when Simeon came around. Same gait, same expression, the same sense of yearning. But today there was something different about him. He was excited, his eyes darted around and his feet moved as if every step was determined by a force outside of himself. Suddenly his weathered face lit up like a thousand candles as his arms extended towards a young couple. With Jesus cradled in his arms the old man began to speak in the sing-song voice of worship: “Sovereign Lord, as You have promised, You now dismiss Your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to Your people Israel” (Luke2:29-32).

Just then an old woman came up to the little group, her eyes bright with wonder and fixed on the infant in Simeon’s arms. “This is Him! This is the One! Oh, praise the name of the Lord – He has sent the Redemption of Israel!” Simeon smiled at Anna and nodded his head in agreement with her proclamation. They had both held tightly to the assurance that God would one day comfort and redeem His people and he was glad to share this glorious moment with his friend.

For the two elderly people, the baby was the fulfillment of a promise they had long held to and yearned to see. Simeon, filled with the Holy Spirit, had been assured by God that he would see the Hope of mankind before he died. Anna, widowed early in her life, had dedicated her years to worship, fasting and praying for the Messiah to come. It had been such a long time – not just their lifetime, but hundreds of years for the oppressed nation of Israel. In the temple courts that day, their faith was rewarded and they received the child with great joy.

How do you hold on when the promise of God is a long time in coming? Just like Simeon and Anna did – with faith. They never wavered in their expectations. They never stopped believing that every promise God made was as sure as His name – El Emunah, The Faithful God. Beloved, His name still stands today. You can wait in faith because God is still always and forever faithful. Christmas is the blessed proof that He will never fail to do what He says He will do.

Image: “Simeon’s Moment” by Ron DiCianna

The Blessing of Believing

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“Did that really happen? It must have been a dream. I have been so anxious over all the preparations Joseph and I are making – it must have caused me to have this strange dream.” Mary was traveling through the hill country of Judea on her way to visit her dear relative, Elizabeth. The angel had said something strange about her too – that she was going to have a child – in fact, he said she was in her sixth month. Elizabeth – of all people. She and Zechariah were too old to have a baby. Yes, this had to have just been a dream.

But what if it wasn’t.

Could she really be with child – with THE child – the Messiah? Why would he have chosen her? She was nothing special, wouldn’t God have chosen the wife of the high priest for such an honor? Someone in a lofty position in the temple, someone more mature, more wealthy, more righteous. No. She shook her head as if to shake loose the crazy idea. This was just not possible. She saw the familiar house and spied her relative in the doorway with her back turned toward the road. “Elizabeth!” Mary called out and gasped as the older woman turned to face her. The smile on her face was warm and welcoming, but the bulge under her dress was a shock to Mary’s heart. It was true! Elizabeth was pregnant! If that were true – then . . .

“Mary! Dear Mary!” Elizabeth exclaimed, and then as if from deep within her spirit she began to speak. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy” (Luke 1:42-44).

Oh, it was true! It was all true! Elizabeth was pregnant. That meant she really was pregnant too – with the Messiah!

Then, as if reading the thoughts the younger woman had carried with her along the journey, Elizabeth took Mary’s hands in her own and said, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished” (v. 45).

Beloved, faith is the sweetest blessing of all.

When God Inturrupts Your Life

 

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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 and 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 the Most High 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?

Why Christmas Belongs to Shepherds not Kings

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I remember an old evangelist who told the story of being in the Miami, Florida area to do a revival. He and the local pastor were driving around inviting people to the revival and witnessing to anyone who would listen. They found themselves in a very affluent neighborhood with massive houses and expensive cars. They spied a man out in his front yard and stopped to visit. After speaking to him of his need for salvation, the man spread his arms in a grand gesture of all that he owned and said, “Saved from what?” Then he dismissed them with a laugh. That man was Jackie Gleason – famed radio, television and movie star.

Perhaps that is why the angels came to lowly shepherds rather than the kings and religious leaders of the day. People who think they have everything also think they have no need of a Savior. They have so much wealth or power or acclaim that they have no room for faith – which is this week’s Advent focus. Shepherds, especially at the time of Jesus’ birth, were the lowest of the low. Scholars tell us that these shepherds were likely watching over sheep that would be used in the sacrifices at the Temple, especially the Passover sacrifice. Their job was nasty, smelly, grueling and demeaning. But they were humble because of their lowly position. These shepherds were just the kind of people God was looking for – people who would receive the Good News with faith.

The Bible tells us that when the shepherds heard the angel’s announcement, they said, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened” (Luke 2:15). They believed the message and set out to find the baby – not because they wanted proof of what the angels said, but because they had faith that it was true. And when their eyes saw what their hearts believed, they couldn’t help but “spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child” (v. 17)

Do you have faith Beloved? Do you believe that what God said about the Baby in the manger is true? Then you can also have faith that this Child is your Savior, your Redeemer, your Hope and Peace, and Joy. Have faith in what God has done and you will see what your heart believes.

Is This Really Christmas? – First Day of Advent 2019

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Thanksgiving night, after feasting with family, we fell into our chairs in front of the television in a tryptophan-stupor. My husband found “The Wonderful World of Disney: Magical Holiday Celebration” on T.V. The show featured multiple popular entertainers singing traditional and not so traditional Christmas songs. There were huge studio audiences in both U.S. locations, with singers, dancers, and of course, Mickey and Minnie Mouse – and I couldn’t help but think how different this “Christmas” celebration was from that holy night.

The Disney parks were packed with people standing shoulder-to-shoulder, squeezing in as close to the stage as they could get. The little town of Bethlehem was packed too, so much so that a young couple, she very heavy with child, could only find lodging in a stable – little more than a cave (Luke 2:16). The parks were awash with dancing lights and fireworks. The man and woman greeted their first-born child in the dark cavern they shared with the animals. The singers for the program were introduced to the adoring crowds with much fanfare by the emcees. The birth of Jesus was announced by a host of angels to lowly shepherds watching over their sheep in the Judean hillside (v. 8). The singers sang such Christmas classics as “Santa Baby,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and “Deck the Halls.” The angel chorus sang “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill to men” (v. 14). The fans screamed and applauded as their favorite stars in glittery costumes sang and danced. The shepherds were awe-struck by the child who was wrapped in rags to protect His tender skin from the prickly straw in which He lay (v. 12). They were amazed and glorified and praised God for all that they had seen and heard (v. 20). How strange that a modern festive celebration originally meant to mark the birth of the Christ child never mentioned His name at all.

This is Christmas in the 21st Century – at least in the world of media and entertainment. But the real Christmas isn’t in fireworks and Santa and screaming fans. It is the quiet presence of the Baby and His parents huddled together in the straw. It is joy and peace and hope and love wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Christmas is Jesus. Nothing more and nothing less. This Advent season I hope you will join me for daily reflections on the season and the Child who changed the world. Let’s find the real heart of Christmas.

When Everyone’s a Philosopher, How Do You Know What’s True?

In this day of social media, everyone has an opinion and anyone with internet access and a keyboard can become an expert about everything from sports to food to politics to religion. Spend an hour on the web and you will know the deep thoughts of world leaders, celebrities, “influencers,” the media, the local yokel, and even the Kardashians. I’m guilty too, as I flood the cyber-world with biblical commentary. The delivery may be modern, but the idea of sharing ideas is as old as man. The trick is to figure out who’s ideas are worth listening to.

Paul warned the believers in Colossae: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy . . .” (Colossians 2:8). The Colossians were being led astray by false teachers who claimed that the secret to eternal life was a higher plane of knowledge – a knowledge that was superior to Christ and put one on the level with God. Their philosophies sounded right, but they were wrong, and anyone who listened was led astray. It wasn’t just a first-century problem. That warning still applies today. There are a lot of messages that sound like the Bible, but they are not the Word of God. There are a lot of teachings that sound like Jesus, but they are not the Son of God. They have shades of truth, but they are not the truth.  So how do you know what is true?

When bank tellers receive training to recognize counterfeit money, they are not schooled in every possible way that a bill can be counterfeited. Instead, they are taught every detail of a genuine bill, so that when someone presents money that is even a little off, they can spot it instantly. The key to recognizing a false bill is to know the real thing. The key to recognizing false teaching is to know the truth. Luke commended a group of believers in Berea because they listened to Paul’s teachings and “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). They didn’t take Paul’s word for what God said; they checked it out in God’s Word.

I hope you do the same Beloved. I hope you take what your Bible teacher says, your Pastor, your favorite author or singer, even yours truly, and lay it beside the authoritative, infallible, inspired Word of the Living God to see if it agrees with what was spoken by the Spirit of God. And if it does not, you run from it and run to the truth. And if I said it, you call me out on it. I also hope that you are making Bible study – not just a five-minute devotional reading – a priority in your day. I hope you are digging in and soaking up the truth. I hope you are learning to recognize the ways and words of God so you are not “taken captive through hollow and deceptive philosophies . . .” I hope you know the Scriptures so intimately that anything just a shade off of the truth raises red flags in your spirit. There is far too much as stake to shrug your shoulders and reason that “it sounds okay to me.” Be a Berean. Know the truth. It’ll set you free.

Answered Prayers

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The angel said to him: “Do not be afraid Zechariah; your prayer has been heard.”  Luke 1:13
 
Have you prayed for something for so long that you finally gave up?  I confess that I have, but I’m so thankful that God remembers, long after my hope has faded.  We learn from Zechariah and Elizabeth’s story in Luke 1: 5-17 that God indeed hears our prayers and He answers – but not always in the way or the time that we expect. 
 
This godly couple was “upright in the sight of God” (v. 6),  faithful and obedient in every way. Yet God withheld the one thing that they desired – a child.  I am sure that Zechariah, like Isaac may years before “prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren” (Genesis 25:21). Doubtless they both prayed, and their families likely prayed, but to no avail. After many, many prayers over many, many years, it seems they accepted reality and adjusted their expectations to what would never be. I mean, logically, isn’t there a time to give up on wishes and get on with life?  Ah, but God had heard those prayers, and He was about to turn their lives joyfully upside down! 
 
I wonder if, when the angel spoke the words of our key verse, Zechariah thought, “Surely he can’t mean that prayer.”  But that was indeed the prayer that the Lord had set in motion. 
My friend, God hears your prayers.  He hears with the heart of a Father who loves you deeply, and He hears with the power of a God who can move heaven and earth to answer you. Does that mean that every prayer we utter is a “Yes” from God?  No – and that is a hard thing to hear when your heart aches before Him.  For reasons we are not always privy to, God sometimes says “No,” or “Not yet.”  But it is always spoken from that Father-heart that wants only the best for His child.  God does not withhold from us anything that is for our good according to His purpose in our lives, He is more than generous in His good gifts.
 
Is there something (or someone) for which you have prayed for a very long time?  Is there a prayer that you once presented fervently in daily petition to God?  If you do not have a clear word from Him to lay that prayer down, then do not give up.  Don’t assume that God has forgotten about you and that prayer.  Keep your hope and trust in Him alive and remember that He is faithful and loving and always working for your good and His glory.  Who knows when an angel of the Lord will greet you and say, “Your prayer has been heard!”

You Are Here

You are here

Continuing in our study of Luke . . .

Before introducing Jesus, Luke sets the stage with the story of the Lord’s cousin, John, and the wondrous way in which he came into this world.  John’s parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, were both descendants of the first high priest, Aaron.  The Scripture says they lived upright and blameless lives – yet the Lord withheld the blessing of children from them.  It doesn’t seem fair, does it?  Sometimes the best people get the worst breaks.  Ah, but there is still more to their story.

Luke 1:8-9 says that Zechariah was “chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord to burn incense” (v. 9). There were so many priests at this time that they could only perform the morning or evening burning of incense once, to allow each to participate.  For any other priest, this was a simple “roll of the dice,” but for Zechariah, this was a divine set-up.  Proverbs 16:33 reminds us, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.”  The “lot” fell exactly as God planned for Zechariah to receive the most important message of his life.

Throughout Scripture, God is seen orchestrating events to accomplish His purpose.  In the lovely story of Ruth, we learn that the young woman went out to glean in the fields and “As it turned out, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz” (Ruth 2:3).  This was not happenstance; this was God working behind the scenes to bring a needy widow to her kinsman-redeemer and future husband.  Remember when Mordecai told Ester: “Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).  Because of divine placement, Esther was instrumental in saving her people from annihilation.

Friend, I don’t know where you find yourself today, but I know it was not by chance.  You are in your neighborhood, in your job, in your church, in your school because God has brought you there.   It may not be where you think you want to be, but you are there by the hand and will of God.  It may be a place of great ministry.  It may be a place to grow.  It may be a place to learn some challenging life lessons.  Paul said the Lord “Determined the times set for [men] and the exact places where they should live” (Acts 17:26).  It is true for me and for you.  Listen carefully for His message.  Look intently for His hand.  You are exactly where you are “for such a time as this.”

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