Wrestling

I know you think I write these devotionals every day for you. You are only partially correct. Some days I write for me and bring you along for the ride.   Writing is how I think and pray and wrestle things out. Today is one of those days. I shared with you earlier that my “word” for the year is “gentle.”  I believe that God is imprinting that word on my heart because I’m in a situation where gentleness is needed for the best outcome.

Gentleness seems so easy, the word even sounds simple as it rolls off my tongue. But it isn’t. Especially when I am tired. And I am tired. Inside and out. When I’m tired the “natural me” comes out. She is petulant and irritable. She wants her way. She grumbles. A lot. She is everything but gentle. And she is awake this morning.

The Lord reminded me of my word through His Word. “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Eph 4:2). Yes Lord, I hear You. Every one of those descriptions is counter to my natural self. I cannot produce them on my own. But they are the very character of Christ whom I claim to follow. One word, in particular, caught my attention: “completely.” That word means “all, each, every.” In every situation, with every person, at all times be humble and gentle and patient and forbearing and loving. Even when I’m tired. Even with people who are unfair and uncooperative. Even when I don’t want to be. Especially when I don’t want to be.

I told you, I’m wrestling this out this morning and so I asked God, “How?” “How do I do this when I’m tired and people are making life hard?” Do you know what He didn’t say? He didn’t say, “I’ll make them more agreeable.” He didn’t say, “I’ll change your situation.” He didn’t say, “I’ll make this easier for you.” The Spirit literally took my eyes across the page of my open Bible to another verse: “For this reason, I kneel before the Father . . .” (3:14). He said, “Humble yourself before  me and ask for my help.” So I will as soon as I sign off. From one wrestler to another, maybe you need to as well Beloved.

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.

Does Anyone See Me? Does Anyone Care?

When her cousin Elizabeth blessed the Baby in her womb, Mary broke out in praise. Luke 1:46-55 is called “The Magnificat” for the first word of her song: Magnificat anima mea Dominum – “My soul glorifies the Lord.” Her reasons run from His blessings to her as an individual to His work on behalf of the nation of Israel to His mighty hand in the world – all declaring His faithfulness.

She said, “He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant”. (v. 48) The NLT renders this “He took notice of His lowly servant girl.” Mary was just one more simple girl living in a poor Judean village – she had no wealth, no status, no theological or religious education – but the Lord God of Heaven and Earth was mindful of her. She celebrated the God who “lifted up the humble – the lowly and despised” (v. 52).

I wonder if you feel unnoticed, overlooked, or disregarded. Day after day you do the thing – care for your family, work a long day at your job, pour over the books as you study, sit with sick loved ones (or maybe not-so-loved ones), wipe noses and bottoms (your own littles or someone else’s), clean floors and dishes, carry responsibilities that aren’t yours to bear. Maybe you come home to a quiet empty apartment every day, or to kids looking to you alone to meet their wants and needs. You are probably wondering how to stretch a little money a long way and when you will ever get a break. Does anyone see you? Does anyone care?

Yes, beloved – God sees you and God cares. Mary could praise the God who took notice of her – a lowly servant girl in a poor village. This is the same God who was named “El Roi” – the God who sees me – by a pregnant Egyptian slave girl on the run in the desert. God told her to name her son “Ishmael,” which means “God hears.” This same God sees and hears you – every tear, every sigh, every lonely, exhausting night, every whispered prayer for help and hope and strength. You are not unnoticed Beloved. The God who created you, who sent His Son to die for you, is mindful of you. He loves you. You are precious in His sight.

Why Christmas Belongs to Shepherds – and to You.

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I remember an 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 the 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. 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 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.

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?

Advent Day 10 – The Coming King

“We wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”  Titus 2:13

Advent is traditionally the time that we prepare our hearts for Christmas – the coming of the Christ Child, the Infant Messiah, the Son of God who became the son of Mary.   Now, on this side of the manger and the cross, we are still preparing for the coming of Christ – but not as a helpless baby.  Today we have the awesome hope of the Lord’s return when Jesus Christ will come in the fullness of His deity, “as King of Kings and Lord of Lords!” (Rev. 19:16).

In Jesus’ day, the Jewish people watched and waited in hope for the promised Messiah, who would break the power of their enemy and set God’s people free.  This Anointed One came, not as a great warrior or ruler as they expected, but as a wee baby, every bit as helpless, it appeared, to overcome the enemy as the people He came to save.  He came in humility “taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:7). The star shone in the sky and the angels sang their praises when God entered this world.  But the vast majority of Jews missed the humble coming of their Messiah.  Certainly the religious leaders who should have recognized Him failed to see Him for who He was.  He lived and grew up and ministered in their midst, but their eyes were blinded to His true identity.

In the world we live in today, people still fail to believe that Jesus Christ is the Hope for all mankind.  Or perhaps they refuse to believe.  Like the Jewish people, our world is oblivious to the light of Christ and the praises that are proclaimed by those who know Him.

But there is coming a day – a great and glorious day – when Jesus Christ will come again.  At His ascension, the angels told His disciples, “Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).  And this time, when He comes, no one will miss it or be able to deny Him.  Jesus told His disciples, “At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27).   He will not come to a quiet and humble stable – He will come “with power and great glory”!  1 John 3:2 proclaims “when He appears…we shall see Him as He is.”  Paul adds to this picture: “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” (Phil 2:10-11).  When Jesus comes again, the whole world will see Him for who He is. Paul says that every knee will bow and every tongue confess – even those who had refused to bow in worship and confess His name.  The world will be overwhelmed by His presence and overcome with awe at His glory and majesty.

Oh my friend, what a day – what a grand and glorious day that will be for all who believe, for those who have made a practice of bowing their knee and have savored the sweet taste of His name on their lips.  Our hearts will be filled with joy and adoration for our Savior.  If you belong to Christ, you have the great hope that Jesus will return as He promised, and He will bring you, His beloved child home.

As we prepare for the Christmas season, let us make ready our hearts – both for the coming of the Christ Child and the coming of our great and victorious Savior and King!

Read Philippians 2:5-11