Faith in the Unexpected

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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 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). 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? She was a simple peasant girl from the nothing town of Nazareth.

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. Her highest aspirations were to marry Joseph and fill their home with lots of children. She was in a most scandalous situation, one that could have cost her her beloved, and possibly even her life. Yet she humbly surrendered herself to the will of God and embraced an unknown future with awe and wonder and faith.

When God interrupts our lives, it rarely comes preannounced by an angel. It usually involves a heart-wrenching phone call, a doctor’s sad face, a police officer’s knock at your door, your teenage daughter’s morning sickness, or a memo that the company is downsizing. We don’t often get advanced notice of life-altering occurrences as Mary did. Still, we can respond with the same humble submission and faith that she exhibited. Why? Because God is with us in the unexpected, just as He was with Mary. Because He still has a plan and a purpose. Because, Beloved, there is still nothing that is impossible with God.

God’s Plan

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“Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea . . . “Matthew 2:1

The Bible is filled with story after story of God’s hand in the events of human history, and in particular in individual lives, as He works to fulfill His will.  But almost always, the path He chooses is very different than those individuals might have envisioned, and often very difficult as well. Joseph had a destiny in Egypt that would affect his family, the nation of Israel, and the entire world.  But God took him through pits and prison on the way.  David would be king of Israel – after running for his life through the wilderness.  I love the story of Paul. The Lord had a purpose for him, to “carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel,” (Acts 9:15).  Jesus told him, “you must testify about me in Rome, (Acts 23:11).  And he did indeed make it to Rome to declare the name of Christ Jesus, but he arrived as a prisoner, by way of a storm and a shipwreck and a snake (Acts 27-28).

Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem fulfilled a prophecy made hundreds of years before: “Out of you, Bethlehem Ephrathah . . . will come one for me who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2).  How would that happen when His mother lived in Nazareth, some 100 miles away?  God worked through the highest office in the land: “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  And everyone went to his own town to register,” (Luke 2:1, 3). While it seemed that Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem for Ceasar’s edict, they were really there to fulfill the promise of God – to bring forth the promised one in the place of His prophecied birth.

A life surrendered into the hands of the Lord God Almighty may have twists and surprises, and yes even doubts and struggles, but you can be assured that He is faithful to keep His promise and to fulfill His purpose.  Don’t be afraid of these “strange things that are happening to you,” Beloved,  (1 Peter 4:12).  It’s just God at work working behind the scenes,  preparing you for “His good, pleasing, and perfect will” (Romans 12). 

All or Nothing

Reading in Luke 14:25-35 where Jesus talked about the cost of being His disciple. It’s much higher than we imagine. He said, “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (v. 33). The cost of following Jesus is everything you have and everything you are. It’s every minute of my time. It’s every dollar you have. It’s every thought in my mind and every desire of your heart. It’s my hopes and dreams and it’s your will. It’s my physical body, my abilities, and it’s your identity. “That leaves nothing for me!” you may say. That’s exactly the point.

Jesus said that there is no such thing as half-hearted disciples. You are either all in or you are all out. He said that a builder will determine the cost of a project and whether he can make that investment before he jumps in. A king will determine the strength of his army before engaging in battle. He said you and I are to consider whether we are willing to give up our lives and our very selves to follow Him – and if we are not, then we cannot be His disciple.

We have confused church membership with discipleship. They are not the same. This may be news to some but, church membership doesn’t get you into heaven. The church rolls are not the Lamb’s Book of Life. And this may shock you, but praying “The Sinner’s Prayer,” isn’t the ticket to heaven. Parroting words will not get you eternal life. Wholehearted surrender to the risen Lord – the Son of God is the only thing that will. Jesus said discipleship – the kind that is all-in, all the time, all the way to your last breath – is the mark of a heaven-bound saint.

Is it enough to show up on Sunday, pay your “dues,” sing, stay awake for the sermon and pat the preacher on the back on your way out the door? Not to Jesus. He demands more of His disciples than that. The modern church of lite and comfort is in for a rude awakening. It’s time to decide, Beloved. Are you willing to abandon all you have and all you are to be a disciple of Jesus? Have you counted the cost and deemed Him worthy?

Your Kingdom Come

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Yesterday I wrote about the Kingdom of God and today I want to take us back for another perspective, In that devotional we looked at how the Kingdom of God is a present reality and is within us through the indwelling Holy Spirit. Please understand that I am not and will never espouse a humanistic gospel. We are the carriers of the Kingdom which is present in God’s Spirit and as such, we bring the Kingdom to the world in which we live.

But what is “the Kingdom of God?” The best answer comes from the Lord’s Prayer which He taught to His disciples: “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).  This is not just a rote statement in Jesus’ prayer, it is an act of surrender.  Simply put, the Kingdom of God is where God’s will is done.

So then, what is God’s will?  I can tell you for certain it is bigger than your life and mine.  Paul said that God’s will is to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under the sovereign authority of Christ (ref. Ephesians 1:10). The ultimate purpose of all existence is the Lordship of Jesus Christ. All of history has been moving toward this one thing: the coronation of Jesus Christ as the King of kings with “authority, glory and sovereign power, everlasting dominion, and a kingdom that will never be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14).

When we pray “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, we are surrendering our will to the will of God and committing to being part of ushering in the Kingdom of God and Christ.  And when we “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33), we are seeking His rule and reign in our lives. We are following the example of Jesus who said, “not my will but Yours will be done”

The Kingdom of God is now and not yet. The Kingdom of God is present in God’s people. The Kingdom of God is the will of God, and when we seek first the Kingdom of God, we are seeking to do His will. And when the Kingdom of God comes on earth, “every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11). That, Beloved, is what the Kingdom in you is all about.

Ordinary People in the Hands of God

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Moses said to the Lord, ‘O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since You have spoken to Your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue’” (Exodus 4:10).

Think you have nothing to offer to God and His kingdom? You’re too young or too old (60!) or have no gifts or talents? You’re just a mom wiping dirty noses, or a regular guy at a regular job, or a college student trying to survive your classes. You’re in very good company my friend!

A young slave sat in a prison, unjustly accused of rape. But God lifted Joseph up and used him to save the founding family of Israel through whom the Savior of mankind would come.

A widow had nothing to offer God but a loyal heart. She humbly out to gather grain to feed them herself and her mother-in-law. But God interceded and Ruth became the great grandmother of God’s anointed King of Israel and part of the lineage of Jesus.

Esther had no influence in the politics of Persia – but she had courage. Because she stepped up and stepped into the King’s court, the Jewish people throughout the Persian empire were saved.

A young captive in a foreign land, Daniel had nothing of value. But he did have integrity. God used him to show His sovereignty and power to Nebuchadnezzar and Darius.

Jesus called twelve men from fishing boats and tax booths and used them to turn the entire world upside down.

Two women did what women throughout the ages have done – raised children and grandchildren. God used Lois and Eunice to shape young Timothy into the Apostle Paul’s right-hand man and true son in the faith.

You may not be in a position of importance, but you are important to the Kingdom of God. You may see yourself as small and insignificant or past your prime, and that’s just fine with Him. He likes to use the least likely people to accomplish the most amazing things. That way He gets all the glory.

If you think you have nothing of value to offer God, you’re wrong. You have yourself. That’s all He needs. He will take you and use you in the most ordinary – and yet extraordinary – ways. He’s got an important task, and you’re just the person He’s been looking for.  All you need to do, Beloved, is be available and watch Him work.

At the Feet of Jesus

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“Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair” (John 12:3).

I often think about the feet of Jesus. Those ten tiny toes kicked against the swaddling clothes as He lay in a manger. Those feet carried Him into the lives of sick children, broken, sinful women, and demon-possessed men. People fell before the feet of Jesus to plead for healing for themselves or someone they loved. And every time Jesus responded with compassion, He never walked away from those who needed him. His feet took Him to teach on the side of a mountain and the lakeshore. They carried Him up to Golgotha where Roman soldiers nailed them to a cruel, wooden cross. His nail-scarred hands and feet were the proof of His resurrected body before His disciples.

All His glory was bound up in that human body with human feet that carried Him to souls in need of mercy, freedom, grace, and life. He walked into my life with those beautiful feet bringing good news, peace, and salvation to this weary sinful woman.

There is one more place in Scripture where we see the feet of Jesus. Zechariah 14:4 says “On that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west.” When Jesus Christ returns to earth in all His glory, His feet will touch down on the Mount of Olives – the place where He surrendered His will to the will of the Father (Luke 22:39-42) – and His glory will be so great that the mountain will split in two. Those beautiful feet will stand atop the mountain, and those scars that spoke of the humble servant of God will now shout of the mighty King of kings. “The Lord will be king over the whole earth” (Zechariah 14:9).

The feet of Jesus bring us healing, wholeness, freedom, and life. The feet of Jesus bear the marks of His great love for you and me. His feet that once bore nails will one day bear power – earth-shaking, mountain-breaking power. And at His feet, all of humanity will fall in worship and proclaim that He is Lord.

Beloved, have you invited Him to walk into your life?

Is That What the Bible Really Says?

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One of my responsibilities is to help my sister-in-love create a bulletin board in the church. The Lord gives her the image and I craft it. She is in charge of inspiration and I am the perspiration. This month, we naturally did an “Easter” theme – based on the song, “Love Grew Where the Blood Fell” and on Luke 22:44: “And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” My husband crafted a wooden cross and we mounted it to the board. Because we wanted to emphasize the Lord’s prayer of surrender in Gethsemane, we talked about adding the “rock” upon which Jesus prayed. But something stopped me. I went to the Gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all speak of the anguished prayer in the garden, but there is no mention of a rock; rather, the Scriptures say “He knelt down and prayed” (Luke 22:41) and “He fell with His face to the ground and prayed” (Matthew 26:39). No rock. But, the prayer on the rock is entrenched in our memory of the story. So where did the rock come from? From the 1886 painting, “Christ in Gethsemane” by Heinrich Hoffman. This classic work of art has become part of the story, just as the “Three wise men” have become part of the Christmas story. But read Matthew’s account again – there were three gifts, but no mention of the number of wise men. John Henry’s 1857 song, “We Three Kings” cements the idea in our minds.
I share this to warn you and me – don’t let side stories and paintings and songs and culture add to or take away from the Word of God. Sure, there’s no harm in having a rock in Gethsemane or three kings in the Christmas story (who, by the way, did not come to the manger, but to the holy family’s house about 2 years after Jesus’ birth). But there are other false teachings that slip in just as easily and can do great harm to your faith and mine. Even if it is something you are sure of, go to the Scriptures and verify it. Our own thoughts and recollections can be colored by something as simple as a children’s nativity play. Friend, we need to be like the Bereans – who listened to Paul’s teachings and “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts17:11). I’ve been a Bible teacher for 20+ years, and my sister-in-love has studied the Bible even longer and we both had a rock in Gethsemane. We were both surprised to discover that there ain’t no rock. Beloved, don’t take anyone else’s word for what God said but God Himself. Even mine. Go get your Bible right now and check it out.

The Pearls

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“Jesus looked at him and loved him.” (Mark 10:21).

She loved the string of pearls that her Daddy had given her when she was twelve.  Oh sure, they were fake, but even four years later they were still beautiful to her and she felt so elegant when she wore them.  Grown up. Sophisticated. Why her Daddy wanted to take them away from her she could not understand.  For months now, he would come to her and say, “Sweetheart, will you give me your pearls?”  “But Daddy, I love my pearls.  I don’t want to give them to you.”  “Okay sweet girl,” was all he would say as he kissed her forehead.  But she loved her Daddy too.  On the eve of her sixteenth birthday she came into the kitchen where he stood, tears in her eyes, her hand outstretched, pearls draped over her fingers.  “I don’t know why you want my pearls Daddy, I love them so much, but I love you more.  If you want them, you can have them.”  And he kissed her on the forehead and said, “Thank you Sweetheart.”

The next morning dawned bright and happy and the sun lit up her room as she stretched awake.  It was Sunday and it was her birthday – the best combination ever!  She showered and dressed and reached into her jewelry box as usual before she remembered the scene from the night before.  A twinge of regret crossed her mind, but she pushed it back and walked to the kitchen where she knew Mama was preparing her birthday breakfast.  Daddy was leaning against the counter and she ran to him as he sang “Happy birthday to you . . .” to the top of his lungs.  Her mother and brother joined the song.  She loved her family so much.  Daddy hugged her tight then reached behind his back and brought out a long, slender black velvet box with a bow on top.  “For my beautiful girl on her sixteenth birthday!”  He said.  She opened the box to see a beautiful strand of cultured pearls nestled in the pink satin lining.  She drew in a sharp breath and exclaimed, “Oh Daddy! This is why you wanted my pearls!”  She turned around as he fastened them around her neck.  “Yes Sweetheart, this is why I wanted your pearls.  As much as you loved that childish necklace, I knew you would love these real pearls even more.  I wanted you to have the very best.”

Jesus encountered a rich young man who wanted to know “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17). After affirming that he knew all the right answers, Jesus then told him to “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come follow Me” (Mark 10:21).  But the man was unwilling to give up his possessions; he walked away wealthy, but spiritually and eternally impoverished.

You and I are so prone to hang on to what we think are the most wonderful and the most important things, clutching them to our chest.  We can’t imagine life without them. But the Father says, “I want you to give this to Me.” And you say “I can’t give it up.  Please don’t take this away from me.”  The cost of surrender is higher than you are willing to pay.  Oh, but He has so much more in mind for you – “more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).  If He asks you to place something in His hands it is because He wants to give you something even better.  You can trust the heart of your Father.  Beloved, will you give up your pearls?