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?

In The End

I wrote yesterday about God’s pre-knowledge of the ups and downs, blessings and tragedies, and Joys and heartaches in our lives. The question then comes, “Why would He allow us to go through these very hard things?”  “Why does He set us on a path when He knows it leads to hardship?” I confess, I’m far from an expert and I certainly can’t read God’s mind, but I can read His Word and glean some things that might help us to understand.

When the Israelites escaped Egypt they rejoiced, yet “on the fifteenth day of the second month [figure about 6 weeks] after they had come out of Egypt . . . the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron” (Ex 16:1,2). They missed the plentiful food of Egypt. So God sent them food – manna. It was their daily diet for forty years (v. 35). After a long steady run of the stuff, they complained, “we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Num 11:6). It became a source of contention for the Hebrew people.

But God knew all this. He knew when He sent Joseph to Egypt to save his family they would become enslaved for four hundred years. He knew that Pharaoh would oppress and abuse them. He knew Moses would be born at a time when Hebrew baby boys were killed. He knew that Mama would make a basket to float him down the river just as Pharaoh’s daughter would bathe in the same river. He knew that Moses would run after he killed an Egyptian for abusing a Hebrew slave. He knew right where to send him where a bush waited. He knew Pharaoh would forbid the Hebrews to leave. He knew they would be pinned between the river and the enemy. He knew they would rebel. He knew they would wander. He knew they would make a golden calf. He knew they would get hungry. He knew they would eventually grow sick of the manna.

He knew all this. Yet He worked in it all. And Moses declared, “He gave you manna to eat in the desert . . . to humble and to test you so that in the end it might go well with you” (Deut 8:16). All of it, from Joseph to the manna was part of God’s plan. God used the manna to humble them and test them and bring them to a place of blessing. And that’s what He’s up to in your life too. In the good, the bad, and the ugly, He’s working to make you useful and usable in His kingdom. He’s working for your good. That season you’re questioning is part of His plan. And His plans never fail. Be encouraged, Beloved, God is up to something. And in the end, it will go well with you.

You Can Say It Now, or Say It Later: Jesus Is Lord

“I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” Mark 1:24

Do you know (without looking it up) who spoke those words? No, it wasn’t Peter or John. Not the wise and righteous spiritual leaders of Israel. It wasn’t even one of the angels. Those words were spoken by a man possessed by an evil spirit, a demon of hell. Someone who certainly had no affection for Jesus, but recognized His divine nature as God in human flesh.

The world is filled with people who refuse to acknowledge Jesus for who He is. They may regard Him as nothing more than a great teacher or prophet. Many consider Him an extraordinary humanitarian. And more than a few claim He is a charlatan who has deceived people for more than two thousand years. Some dismiss Him altogether as a man-made hoax designed to ‘fleece the sheep.”

In my undergrad studies, I had to interview several non-believers and I asked them to just speak three words: “Jesus is Lord” and every one of them refused. One said he “couldn’t” say it, the words wouldn’t form in his mouth. How can two people know of Jesus and one believe and one not? Because “the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith” (Heb 4:2). Demons don’t have faith and neither do people who hear the gospel and walk away from it. But one day they will see what they refused to see in this life.

Paul declared in Philippians 2:10-11 that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” The evil spirit in our key verse is proof of Paul’s words. The day will come – very soon I believe – when every human from Adam to the last man standing will kneel and profess Jesus as Lord – the Son of God – the Holy One. It will be an involuntary response to His holiness and majesty. Just as the demon declared it, the words will fall from every person’s lips as all of mankind acknowledges Him. For those who believe today, it will be a shout of celebration. But for those who spurned the Son of God during their lifetime, that confession will be made with deep anguish and terror as they realize that in rejecting Jesus Christ they rejected their only hope for salvation.

You and I have a choice to make today that will determine how we respond in that glorious moment. We can reject Jesus now and make that confession by force, or bow our knees and our hearts and acknowledge Jesus as Lord today, so that great confession will be spoken with Joy. Don’t wait to proclaim the Name of Jesus, Beloved – He is Lord!

Consider it All Joy (part 2)

Yesterday’s devotional started a conversation about God’s purposes in our suffering. We’re going to continue today in part two. I’ll post a link to part one in the comments.

Sometimes trials are a means of discipline in our lives – I know this one well.  The psalmist declared, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your Word” (Psalm 119:67).  Hebrews adds, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).  Trials that come as a consequence of our sinful and foolish behavior are meant to teach us valuable life lessons.  Or as my mother said, “Bought lessons stay with you longer than taught lessons.”  If you can connect your trial to your actions, take that as a means of discipline and training. The writer of Hebrews also said that discipline identifies us as God’s true children. “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?” (See Hebrews 12:5-10). Discipline means that God is being a good Father to you.

Our trials reveal God to the world.  When Jesus and His disciples encountered a man who had been blind from birth, He said, “This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (John 9:3). When the Lord healed this man everyone knew it, and he became a living testimony to the power of God.  You and I are the canvas on which God paints His own portrait for the world to see.  Just as silver and gold show up most brilliantly against a dark backdrop, the power and glory of God are on vivid display in our trials.  Our difficulties become the means by which God shows up and shows off.

Beloved, I don’t know what trial you are facing today, but I know that God has brought you to it for a good purpose.  He is at work in your life, stretching your faith, moving you into His will, preparing you to minister to someone else, teaching you discipline, and making your life a display of His glory.  Every trial is an opportunity for you and me to draw closer to our Father, to walk by faith, and to point others to Him.  Yes, we can count it all Joy when trials come, because we know God has a purpose and a plan – and we will be the richer for it.

“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).

Have Faith

In Mark 4:35-41, when Jesus boarded a boat with His disciples He promptly fell asleep. If you read the preceding verses you will see it was a busy day and He was exhausted. So when a “furious squall” came up on the lake and threatened the boat, He slept right through it. The disciples had to wake Him up in a panic, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” I imagine they expected Him to start helping them bail water, but I don’t think they expected Him to calm the storm with a command. “He rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’” And the wind and waves obeyed Him.

At first, I was going to write about how nature obeys God yet man – His pinnacle of creation – does not. But something else is speaking to me as I meditate on this passage. I encourage you to grab your Bible and read these verses while I gather my thoughts.

In verse 40 Jesus rebuked His disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Faith is the cure for fear. Everything in life is about faith. Because “by faith we understand” and “without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Heb 11:3,6). Faith enables us to stand when we want to give up. Faith is the power of endurance and perseverance. Faith is the fuel of hope and the light of peace. Most importantly, we are saved by grace through faith (Eph 2:8). Faith matters for this life and for eternal life.

But there’s something else I see here. I’m drawn back to verse 35 when Jesus said, “Let us go over to the other side.” He told them where they were going so they should have realized that no storm was going to stop Him. He knew there was a man on the other side who was possessed by a legion of demons. He was on a mission of supernatural healing. Just a side note: scholars point out that, based on how He spoke to the storm, there was almost certainly demonic activity stirring the wind and waves. When you put it all together, it makes sense that demons would try to stop Jesus from reaching this man. But when you consider who He is . . .

What wonderous thing has Jesus spoken to you? Do you have faith to believe that He is able to achieve it? Whenever He speaks, it is accomplished. Wind and waves and demons cannot stop Him. Have faith Beloved, – even in the middle of the storm.

This is the Way

Hubby and I went into town yesterday to run some errands. But first breakfast at our favorite breakfast spot. When we got to the 3-way intersection by the church, I expected him to take the middle road, knowing where we were headed. He went to the road on the right. I opened my mouth to say that this was the wrong way, but then I remembered that he grew up driving on these backroads and I settled back in my seat. He loves to take alternate routes. Riding with him is an adventure but we always end up in the right place.

After 400 years of enslavement, the Israelites were allowed to leave Egypt and journey to Canaan, the Promised Land. But there would be alternate routes all along the way. If you look at a map, the easiest way would be due east, hugging the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, but God didn’t lead them that was because they would have crossed through Philistine country and faced a fight they were not strong enough to handle. He said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt” (Ex 13:17). So He detoured them to the south toward the Red Sea.

Then he turned them back the way they came. I’m sure they were thinking, “God, what are you doing here? Where are you taking us?” But He said, “Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’” Thinking he had the upper hand Pharaoh pursued them, but God divided the sea and led the people across on dry ground. Then He closed the waters up over Pharaoh and the Israelite army. And they glorified Him. (Ex 14:1-31).

Of course we know about the detour through the wilderness when the Israelites disobeyed Him, but in the end, they crossed over the Jordan (again in a miraculous way) and into the Promised Land. Even in their sin, God was working to take them where He wanted them to be. Traveling with God is always an adventure. He never directs me the way I expect. But He has never gotten me lost. Every time I think He’s given me a wrong turn it turns out to be a different path to the right place. And when I fail to listen and think I know the way, He guides me back to the place I need to be. He knows every backroad and every detour because He blazed the path long before.  Beloved, you can trust God to lead you well. Whatever path he guides you to, He will always get you Home.

Hebrews: Who Will You Follow?

Today we’re looking at one of those verses folks love to lift out of its context and make it say something quite different on its own. Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” I understand the church’s application as a condemnation of lifestyles that were once rightfully regarded as sinful and are now accepted and even celebrated in many denominations. What God once called sin is still sin today. He hasn’t changed his mind to fit the culture. But that’s really not what this verse is all about. 

The message of the whole book of Hebrews is “Don’t abandon Christ.” From the first chapter to the last, the writer has declared that Jesus is the only way to redemption and eternal life and any other way is a lie that leads straight to hell. He is encouraging his audience to stay with the One who is superior to the angels, greater than Moses, whose ministry was more effective than the priests, who was made like men but wholly unlike men, who presented Himself as the perfect sacrifice and was the object of the faith of their past heroes. “You started with Christ,” the author says, “you must stay with Him to the end.”

So, let’s put this verse back in its original context. Verse 7 indicates that the leaders they had followed had died and they likely felt adrift now. But they were not without a holy and righteous example. They had Jesus Christ who “is the same yesterday and today and forever.” I followed the cross-reference back to Psalm 102:25-27 which declares the eternal nature of God – not only that He lives forever, but He is the same forever.

The Church has been rocked in recent years by very public Christians who have abandoned their faith and “deconstructed.” A powerful apologist and evangelist was posthumously accused of living a sinful life that belied his testimony and teaching. A popular female Bible teacher has shaken her followers recently by changing her personal religious affiliations and taking an unbiblical stance.  Even our beloved local pastors are human – and fallible. So is this Bible teacher. If I haven’t disappointed you yet, stick around. That’s why I want to always and only point you to Jesus Christ. You can follow Him with confidence that He was and is and will forever be faithful and true. Men (and women) will almost certainly let you down. But you really can trust Jesus, Beloved. All the way through eternity.

Do It Anyway

Eric Liddell served as a missionary in China
and died in a Japanese internment camp at age 43.

Yesterday I wrote about how Moses (and I) argued with God about his qualifications for service. God said, “I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt” (Ex 3:10). Moses replied, “Who am I that I should go to Pharoah and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (v. 11). And God says something akin to, “It doesn’t matter who you are because I will be with you” (v. 12, paraphrased). Now that should have been enough to stop all of Moses’ arguments, but it isn’t. He said, “What if they don’t believe me?” (4:1). And God empowered him to do signs that validate his message. “But, Lord, I’m not an eloquent speaker – I stutter” (v. 10) To which God says, “I know. I put that tongue in your mouth. But I’m going to help you and teach you what to say and how to say it” (vs. 11-12, paraphrased).

Every time I read this passage I am reminded of when God called me to teach His Word. I was terrified. I hate being the center of attention, probably because as a kid anytime my peers noticed me it was to pick on and bully me. I learned to stay as quiet as possible and even wore drab colors so I didn’t stand out. No Lord, do not put me in front of a group of people. The last time that happened – in Mrs. Faust’s 6th grade English class – I wet my pants. In front of the whole class. Someone reminded me of that when we lined up for our high school graduation.

I said, “I’m a middle-aged woman from the deep south. Nobody’s going to listen to me.” And God said, “I know who you are and how old you are. I also know you love to talk. I made you a chatterbox for a reason. I will be with you. I will help you. I will train you. I will speak through you.” And He has been faithful to His promise. His calling is my Joy.

Eric Liddell, the Scottish Olympic runner and devout Christian once said, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” God gave me a love for words and when I write and teach, I feel His pleasure. I don’t know what He has called you to do, but I’ll bet it scares you. And it should – because it’s a God-sized calling. But do it anyway because He will be with you every step of the way. And when you do Beloved, you will feel His pleasure.

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).

Are You Sure That’s Right?

I goofed up at work yesterday. I ordered a textbook for one of my professors and when I started adding the professor’s information to the online form, the auto-fill popped up because I had ordered textbooks for him before. Yes! I clicked on his name and let the system do its thing. The publisher sent an auto-reply to his email address to confirm the request. He messaged me his thanks – and told me that he had a new address. The book was going to the old address. I pulled up his faculty file in our system and – guess what – he had given me his new address months ago. But the publishing website had the old address and I, assuming it was correct, failed to verify it. Now I had to scramble to contact the publishing company and correct them before the book shipped. All because I didn’t do due diligence. I just assumed what they had was right.

You know where I’m going with this, don’t you? I’ve beat this drum before: Check everything out.  It was a minor inconvenience for me, but not every error is so simple. False teaching has eternal consequences. The culture is teaching “a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all” (Gal 1:6,7). They are teaching a humanitarian gospel that says we are all God’s children and that He accepts everyone who is sincere in whatever they believe. That’s a lie, and people will go to eternal hell sincerely believing it. They are teaching that God only wants us happy, not holy and that he is okay with homosexuality, murdering unborn babies, and changing our gender. That’s not the God of the Bible – the God who is holy, holy, holy.

That’s why the Bereans were applauded in Scripture.  Acts 17:11 says “The Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”  This little congregation checked out everything Paul said before they bought into it.  So should you

False stories on social media can be harmless – like copying and pasting text to change Facebook’s algorithms (p.s. it doesn’t do a thing), but believing a lie about God will always have eternal consequences.  My friends, please don’t let Facebook or Twitter or even me be your source for spiritual truth; check it out in the Bible before you believe it – and especially before you share it.  Beloved, Don’t take anyone else’s word for who God is or what He has said but God Himself.