God’s Providence – Our Peace

Reflection from Midweek Advent Communion Service—December 12, 2018             

Luke 1:26-56

God is at work in the barren places – that was the thrust of our thoughts last week as we read of Zechariah in the temple, learning that he and his wife, an old man and an old woman, would give birth to a son they were to name John.

This week’s reading includes the proclamation of another strange birth. Strange not because the young woman is unable to have a child but shouldn’t be having a child because she’s not fully betrothed and strange because there is no earthly father.

In other words, it will be another miracle birth but this one will not come without the hint of scandal.

To add to the scene we learn the young maiden lives in Nazareth. Recalling the incident in John 1 we get a glimpse of Nazareth’s reputation.

The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”

Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

“Come and see,” said Philip.

Apparently, Nazareth wasn’t anything special and one shouldn’t expect much of anything to come from there. But as we noted Sunday, God works in remote places and in obscure places. He chooses the meek and the weak to do the mighty and the miraculous

So lowly Mary in lowly Nazareth gets a messenger from God himself when Gabriel shows up and disrupts any plans Mary might’ve had for herself.

Obviously, much could and has been said about this passage but in this Advent week of peace we pause to hear the words of the messenger Gabriel.

“Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 

But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.

In the midst of an unplanned pregnancy and in rough and tumble Nazareth… in the midst of “What are people going to say?” circumstances… in the midst of an “I’m not ready for this” kind of situation… in the midst of “What will Joseph think?” worries… come words of reassurance.

Do not be afraid… you have found favor with God.

Mary and Gabriel, of course, continue the conversation and she gets further explanation about what’s going to happen. As the conversation winds down we get a glimpse into Mary’s faith: “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”

We are reminded that peace is not so much determined by our circumstance as it is by our faith in God’s providence, knowing and trusting that we belong to God and that he works all things for the good of those who love him.

This afternoon… let us take a few minutes to meditate on peace.

  • And as you do, ponder your own circumstances… and entrust them to the Lord.
  • And think of others you know who are struggling with peace… and lift them in prayer to the Lord as well.

 

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God’s Provision – Our Hope

Reflection from Midweek Advent Communion Service—December 5, 2018               

Reading: Luke 1:1-25

God works in the barren places—this is a common theme for Advent and a common theme in the Bible.

There’s Abram and Sarai. They are too old to have a child. And yet miraculously they do. Then there’s Hannah and Elkanah.

Hannah too is barren. She can’t give her husband a child. So she prays to the Lord. And she prays so fervently at Shiloh (peace) that the priest Eli thinks she’s drunk.

[He responds…] 1 Samuel 1:14 and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.”

[She protests…] 15“Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. 16Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”

17Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”

18She said, “May your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.

 

Indeed, she will be found to be with child and she will name him Samuel. She will consecrate him to the Lord and he will be a great prophet among the people.

There are other moments of barrenness

  • There’s Naomi and Ruth who have lost everything and they move back to Naomi’s home of Bethlehem in search of a new start.
  • There’s Joseph enslaved by the Egyptians, thanks to his traitorous brothers.
  • There’s Jonah in the big fish.
  • There’s Paul and Silas in prison.
  • There’s Israel exiled to Babylon.

 

So the biblical narrative is full of tales of barrenness and various trials and tribulations.

But these episodes are about more than barrenness and hardship. They are about God’s good provision for his people.

So it is with Elizabeth and Zechariah. Barren, like Hannah and like Abram and Sarai, but when God visits this couple he offers them more than a miracle. Not only will they get a child, they will be God’s instruments in heralding God’s salvation. God has brought joy out of mourning, light out of darkness, and hope out of despair. This is who God is. This is the kind of thing God does.

But this is hope for more than the old couple. It’s hope for all of Israel and all the peoples of the earth. It’s hope for you and me because he who is heralded is the Savior of the world. And it’s a sure reminder God is at work in seemingly barren places.

This afternoon… let us take a few minutes to meditate on hope and on God’s provision. As you do, think of your places of barrenness… and lift them in prayer to the Lord. And think of others you know who are struggling with hope… and lift them in prayer to the Lord. Think too of the needs of others… and ask God to bring life.

Quiet meditation.

Amen.

 

Nike

Can we all admit the real problem with Nike’s ad campaign is that the slogan is vague garbage and would “work” (and maybe work better) depicting any number of people ranging from Mother Teresa to Adolf Hitler?

#gowithMotherT #justdoit #boknowswasbetter

Hard Word Wednesday – A Happily Ever After Reflection

Truth: If you are married, your marriage is the second most important relationship in your life. Seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, your next priority is your spouse. Not your job. Not your kids. Not your parents, though all these other things rank high on the list of priorities. You’ve pledged yourselves to one another. You’ve promised to love one another for better or worse and in sickness and in health. These are big promises. Jesus said let your yes be yes and your no be no and you’ve said “yes” to your husband or your wife. You are now in this together – to honor the Lord by honoring each other and to honor him by serving him and, if given children, training them to do the same.

Marriage is not easy though. It is a wonderful school for discipleship, a place to learn to give, love, serve, forgive, etc., while also learning we ourselves need grace, a lot of grace. And patience and kindness and gentleness and the list could go on.

I’ve mentioned before a friend of mine’s observation that romantic comedies are more dangerous than pornography because people know porn is fake. The last part might be debatable but he’s definitely on to something. (Most) romantic comedies depict a couple overcoming a major obstacle or conflict so that they can live happily ever after. The problem with this is we see only the one challenge. We don’t see the rest of the conflicts. We don’t see morning breath or morning sickness. We don’t see dirty diapers or dirty dishes. We don’t see screaming children or losing children prematurely. We don’t see unforeseen addictions or unwanted illnesses. We don’t see the bad moods or overly busy days. We don’t see vomit on the floor or financial stress. We don’t see changing bodies and changing faces. We don’t see extra work and not-yet-noticed weaknesses and annoying habits. We don’t see burdensome debt and subtle doubts.

We don’t see that happily ever after takes time, discipline, communication, and commitment. We don’t see that happily ever after might mean difficult days, weeks, or seasons.

But it’s wonderful precisely because God blesses us with all those things to make us more like Jesus. And becoming like Jesus allows us to grow in joy. Together.

Of course, it all begins with the voices we listen to on a daily basis. Whose voice has your attention? Only one matters. And when the two listen to that one,  happily ever after isn’t so far off.

 

Social Media – Which Voices Really Matter

Almost a week has passed since I challenged you to examine carefully your social media habits. I shared with you what I learned after two days and thought I’d update you here at the end of the week.

I’ve changed plans. Slightly.

Rather than check everyday (and possibly alter my behavior), I’ve decided I might get a more honest assessment by proceeding as normal, checking accounts as I normally would. I’ll take a look tomorrow night at where I stand. I’ve also decided to give it a full month. I’ll continue with a paid subscription for the next thirty days to get an even more comprehensive picture.

Why am I doing this? To see whose voices I’m spending my time listening to and how much time I’m giving them.

Many voices call out to us but only few really matter. And only one exceeds them all.

Listen Well… and Live!

On Mary and Martha and the burdens we (need not) bear:

If one has not listened, one’s service will be life crushing.

If one listens, one’s service will be life giving.

Remember, Jesus’ yoke is easy and burden light.

In him you can find rest for your soul.

Hard Word Wednesday

I’ve got news for you. Your children – your loves, your heartbeat, the center of your universe – they aren’t yours. They do not belong to you. Not ultimately anyway. What’s more is they aren’t even their own.
 
So here’s the challenge you have as a parent and/or spiritual parent.
 
“Your” children belong to God. They are his. His creation has been entrusted to you – to lead, care for, nurture, and shepherd – for their good and his glory. Not yours. 
 
This is not an easy job. It is a task we’ve perhaps taken too lightly, if we’ve even considered it at all.
 
And here’s the other thing. We won’t lead them well if we aren’t listening to the right voices.
 
Whose voice has the most influence over you? Whose voice are you teaching them to listen to?
PS Don’t let there be anything more important… Our Leadership Cohort is reading Lead Like a Shepherd. Author Larry Osborne notes how important it is to teach our children well and make and help them make wise decisions and right priorities:

On the other hand, the odds are incredibly high (nearly 100 percent) that he will learn the life lesson that his parents are unintentionally teaching him: church is important . . . unless there is something more important.

Osborne, Larry. Lead Like a Shepherd: The Secret to Leading Well (p. 68). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.