God of the Unexpected, Yet Again!

Two simple but profound verses add to our Christmas Story today.

Luke 2: 6-7 “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”

What do we learn about Mary and Joseph? First and foremost they made it to Bethlehem. That 90 mile journey accomplished, they looked for a place to stay. There were no places available so an innkeeper allowed them to stay in his stable. I have visited the place thought to be where Jesus was born and it is a cave in the side of the mountain, cozy and sheltered. When you consider who visited them that first night, the shepherds, it is a perfect setting with easy access to those coming from the fields. We also see that Mary gave birth with just Joseph’s help. I’m sure as there were no women there to assist her or scripture would have told us. A birth is beautiful but messy and stress filled. Alone in a strange place, this must have taken great courage and determination to see this night through for both Mary and Joseph. Scripture does not give us additional details except to say that her time had come and she delivered the baby and wrapped him in cloths. Providentially, there was a manger available to use as a crib.

What do we learn about God? God protected them on the journey. God provided a place of shelter for them to stay that was warm and safe when there were no rooms anywhere. God watched over them and there were no complications or problems mentioned in the birth so we can know that there were none. God provided what they needed in a place that was accessible to those who would first come to see and worship His new born son. God is Sovereign over all things that happen in our lives. God is our great protector and provider. Just like Mary and Joseph, we can trust in God to be all those things for us.

Where do you need to trust God today? Are you facing a long journey of your own? Do you think there will be perils on this trip? Are you needing to stay someplace and you are concerned about the availability of room? Take your concerns to God and pre-pray the situation. Let God know of your concerns and worries. 1 Peter 5:7 tells us Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” Take you faith in hand and put them in Jesus. He loves and cares for you. Then proceed with a prayerful heart knowing the truth of Deuteronomy 31:6 “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Linda

This is a photograph I took of the manger area. We gathered and sang Silent Night. It was very moving.

God of the Unexpected

 Today’s passage shows us courage and determination in both Mary and Joseph. Mary was 9 months pregnant and had to endure a journey of about 90 miles going by the safest route in their day. It would have taken days. Joseph’s concern for his pregnant wife, the hazards of travel by foot/donkey and possible dangers on the road undoubtedly filled his mind as he sought to obey the law of the land and go to Bethlehem for the required census. Unlike in our day where we fill out a paper and mail it in, they had to appear in the town to be physically counted by the government. It was not an option to not go. So they went.

Luke 2:1-5 “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.”

Even though this was an unexpected turn of events for this family, they endured and persisted to accomplish what was required. I’m sure they must have wondered, why Lord? Why do we have to go at this time in our life? In a few months this would be easier, right? However, maybe they knew the child was to be born in Bethlehem as foretold by the prophets. Scripture is silent on this and as we have seen in previous passages, both Mary and Joseph were good Jews and sought to follow the Law. They were devoted and sought to be obedient to the Lord.

What about you? When things don’t go as you planned or unexpected road blocks appear, what is your response? Do you try to blame someone or even God? Or is your response one of diligent persistence and prayer? We can look back now at this story and see why they had to endure this hardship of travel. Jesus was to be born in Bethlehem. They needed to travel to this unexpected place for this blessed event to occur. What blessing does God have for you as you seek to follow through with His plans? He is the God of the unexpected and when you look back on your trials you will see His hand protecting, providing and guiding you all the way. You will see, perhaps, why the detour was needed. Following God requires faith and trust in His Sovereignty. He knows the way. We just need to follow and go just as Mary and Joseph did long ago.

Linda

Shared Joy!

When was the last time you shared a joyous moment with a friend or relative? I hope it has not been too long as those are moments to be cherished. My sister and brother-in-law just celebrated their 70th Wedding Anniversary! At dinner, we asked them to share their favorite trips, funny stories about their children, things growing up that impacted them, etc. It was a wonderful time of sharing. In today’s verses we see the joyous reunion of Elizabeth and Mary as they meet for the first time since they both were visited by the Holy Spirit’s power in a special way. Elizabeth in now 6 months into her pregnancy and Mary’s has just begun. We see Elizabeth’s joy at realizing her baby recognizes the mother of the Lord. This causes Elizabeth to be filled with the Holy Spirit and proclaim the coming of the Lord.

 “At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” Luke 1:39-45

One of the things I cherish about this encounter is that it shows normal people engaging each other in normal ways. What is unusual about this encounter is the intervention of the Holy Spirit in their midst. We engage with people all the time, but have you stopped to think that you being indwelt by the Holy Spirit through your faith in Jesus bring the Holy Spirit with you into each encounter. As with Elizabeth and Mary, we need to let the joy of the Lord be with us in conversations and actions as we meet and greet others in our daily lives. God’s power within us has the power to effect and influence others for His good.

What words of praise do you give out? Ours will not be words of prophesy but can give life changing words of encouragement and hope. God has us where we are for His purpose, and we need to take opportunities to speak of Him as often as we can. You can speak words of hope by being a friend, listening with an open mind and heart, praying for the other person even as you speak with them. Look for the God opportunities today and share your joy!

Linda

Are you Ready and Willing for God’s Call?

Gabriel delivered a surprising and disturbing message to Mary. She was to become a mother by miraculous circumstances but she was an unwed mother in a time where it could have had dire consequences. Gabriel told her in verse 28 “The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary seemed to accept that the coming pregnacy was a blessing and that she was being touched by God in a wonderful way. Her question was, how? Knowing she had not slept with her betrothed husband, she did not see how this was possible. Gabriel reassures her that it is to be ALL God’s doing. Instead of questioning the Lord’s ability to do this miracle, she accepts it with humility and grace.

You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. Luke 1:31-38

To reassure Mary, Gabriel points her to her cousin Elizabeth who is having a child in her old age. Mary would have been familiar with the circumstances of this miracle and Zechariah’s inability to speak. She would have known of the prophecy of a Messiah to come from her family line and must have had a personal faith in God’s faithfulness and power to do the impossible. Her answer is humble and filled with faith. She calls herself the Lord’s servant and accepts Gabriel’s words as truth.

How deep is your faith? Can you imagine receiving a messenger from God in visible form? Can you imagine such a miraculous message that would totally transform your future? Many times in scripture men and women have received life altering messages from God. Abraham was called to Go and leave his homeland not knowing his final destination. After a vision of God’s throne room, both Isaiah and Jeremiah were called to speak on God’s behalf to the Israelites. Deborah was called to lead the nation of Israel as was Gideon. All of these men and women said, “yes” to God’s call and were blessed in mighty ways. By submitting to God’s leading, their lives were transformed so they could accomplish God’s work. Mary likewise answered God’s call upon her life and would be blessed and remembered for all eternity.

What is God asking you to do? Is there some work or project He is nudging you to accept? Is He calling you to speak, forgive or support someone? Take some time today and ask God. He may reveal His plans to you as He did with Mary or He may keep you in the dark like He did Abraham. In either case, faith and trust in God is involved. Will you answer with faith and humility or unbelief and rejection? Remember that what God calls you to do, He will equip you to do it. Have faith as God’s chosen servant!

Linda

God’s Plans can be Unexpected!

In today’s passage, we see Gabriel bringing news to Mary this time, the future mother of Jesus. Just as previously when Gabriel delivered his message, he was aware of Mary and her emotions and feelings. He knew she was afraid because he was a heavenly being and his news was unsettling. She wondered how she could possibly be with child as she was unmarried and had never slept with her betrothed Joseph. Her questions come from fear and concern not unbelief. Gabriel is patient with her and tries to relieve her fears. Mary does not question the fact that God could cause her to be pregnant or that an angelic being is speaking with her or even the validity of the content of his message. Mary accepts these things by faith. Luke 1:26-34

 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” 34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

Yesterday we saw Elizabeth’s response to the miracles God brought into her life. Mary likewise is not fearful of being used by God for this great purpose, only curious. As a young Jewish woman she would know the prophecy’s about the coming Messiah. She would know the implications for both she and Joseph if she were to become pregnant outside of marriage. However, she receives the message from Gabriel with wonder. Zechariah questioned God’s ability to bring a child into their marriage because of their age. Mary does not question God’s ability to do this but is curious as to how this can be. Her response to the coming miracle is one of faith and not a question holding doubt in her heart. What about you? When God provides in an unseen way or does something miraculous in your life, do you question His ability to do it? Do you say why or wait a minute this can’t possibly be? God expects us to respond with faith and then thanksgiving which we will see Mary does as the passage unfolds.

One other observation about this passage, Gabriel calls Mary ‘highly favored’ of God and that the Lord is with her. Do you consider yourself ‘favored’ by God? If you know Jesus as your Savior, you are recipient of God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness. His Holy Spirit indwells and empowers you to live for Him. You are definitely highly favored and loved by God!

Today take a few minutes to ponder what God has done and is doing in your life. Look at how you have responded to His goodness and provision. If it is with a thankful heart, keep on thanking Him. If it is with hesitancy or doubt, turn to Him and seek His forgiveness. Remember and claim Jeremiah 29:11 for your life and believe it as Mary and Elizabeth have shown us.  For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” They trusted God with the plans for their lives and knew that God’s plans would be for their good and His glory! Can you do the same today, you who are also highly favored by God?

Linda

You Choose- Belief or Unbelief

Previous to today’s passage, we had learned that Zechariah was a priest and it was his time to go and serve in the temple. He was married to Elizabeth, who was barren, and they were both old as in beyond the years of having children. The angel Gabriel had appeared to Zechariah while in the temple and told him that Elizabeth would have a child and their son would be called John. God has a marvelous plan for John’s life as he was to announce the arrival of the Son of God, Messiah, and prepare the people’s hearts through repentance. As today’s passage opens, Gabriel allows Zechariah to speak to him. Luke 1:18-22

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” 19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.

Who was this angel, Gabriel? The Bible refers to Gabriel by name 4 times. Twice in Daniel when he was delivering prophecy and helping Daniel to understand the things revealed to him. Twice in the New Testament book of Luke, here to Zechariah and then to Mary. Angels were used by God to deliver important messages to His people. The angel Gabriel would have been known to Zechariah because he was a priest who knew and studied the Old Testament. He would have known that angels were God’s holy messengers and being sent from God their messages would be true. We know from other Bible passages the angels were involved in heavenly warfare. In this case, Gabriel shows the ability to punish or deliver consequences for Zechariah’s unbelief. Unbelief always brings consequences. Why then did Zechariah show such unbelief? Perhaps like many of us, he was stuck in the here and now. He knew he was old. He knew Elizabeth was old and could not have children. The physical obstacles were beyond his ability to make them happen in his mind. Having a child was just incomprehensible. He did not remember the case of Abraham and Sarah. Instead of choosing faith and belief in God’s Sovereignty and Omnipotent power he settled for rationality, for what was believable in earthly terms. Isn’t that what we do when we refuse to accept miracles by faith, refuse to consider the possibility that God can overcome earthly obstacles?

We need to remember whenever there is unbelief, there is a price to pay. Zechariah’s price was silence for 9 months until John was born. Those who refuse to believe in Jesus and his saving power pay with eternal separation from God. Scripture tells us that God rewards faith with eternal life, indwelling of His Holy Spirit, a life of connection and peace with Him. However, unbelief results in eternal death from sin. Do you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior? If not, turn to Him today and confess your sins and accept His free gift of eternal life. John 3:16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” Which will you choose today, belief or unbelief?

Linda

The Faith Candle-the Second Sunday of Advent

The second Sunday of Advent is when the candle of faith which is often called the Bethlehem candle is lit. It proclaims the blessing to come because of God’s great love for us, by sending Jesus to be born in Bethlehem. This week’s readings we will focus on Zechariah’s reaction to the angel’s message, Elizabeth’s belief that she will have a child in her old age, the angel’s appearance to Mary, Mary’s response to the angel’s message, and Mary’s encounter with Elizabeth and her unborn child. Prepare your hearts and minds to reach into scripture and discover new meaning for yourself as you read the scripture with faith. Faith pleases God and through our faith in Jesus He blesses us with His love and peace. He also gives us understand and insights into His Word- so be prepared to be blessed this week.

On this second Sunday of Advent, let your heart and mind dwell on the words of Psalm 31:19-23. Let them fill you with joy and anticipation that God has all things under control.

How abundant are the good things
that you have stored up for those who fear you,

that you bestow in the sight of all,
on those who take refuge in you.
20 In the shelter of your presence you hide them
from all human intrigues;
you keep them safe in your dwelling
from accusing tongues.

21 Praise be to the Lord,
for he showed me the wonders of his love

when I was in a city under siege.
22 In my alarm I said,
“I am cut off from your sight!”
Yet you heard my cry for mercy
when I called to you for help.

23 Love the Lord, all his faithful people!
The Lord preserves those who are true to him,
but the proud he pays back in full.
24 Be strong and take heart,
all you who hope in the Lord.

Blessings as you enjoy the season and may God strengthen your walk of Faith!

Linda

How Do You Prepare for the Unexpected?

Regardless of our age, God is the God of the unexpected. He is constantly surprising me with His provision, His help in times of need, His grace and the way God resolves problems in unexpected ways. The story of Zechariah and Elizabeth is truly one of great surprise. Elizabeth and Zechariah were old and she was beyond child bearing age. She had tried for years to have children but was unable to conceive. She did not let her barrenness grow into bitterness because scripture tells us they were righteous in the sight of God. They held Him and His ways in highest regard and loved serving Him. Zechariah was not prepared for the message the angel came to deliver as we will see tomorrow.

 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside. 11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. Luke 1:5-11

What does this small portion of Jesus’ story show us about God? God uses ordinary people like you and me to do His work. In 2 Corinthians 6:7-8 Paul talks about working for God. “We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense. We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest, but they call us impostors. We are not always well received as Paul admits but God has a purpose and work for each one of us. Following God leads to righteous behavior and contentment even in difficult times. 1 Timothy 6:6-7 reminds us of this truth, “Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it.”

As you ponder this godly couple today, think about your commitment to God. Are you filled with faith regardless of the circumstances? Are you letting the root of bitterness grow when you don’t seem to get your way? Are you ready for God to surprise you this season? Open your heart to Him as His story, truths and love unfold for us this Christmas.

Linda

Journey into Faith This Advent

As we begin this season of Advent, I am reflecting upon my word for the year; Faith. We will see God’s continual faithfulness to mankind in the Christmas story and realize afresh our need to walk in faithfulness to Him. Each and every part of this story reflects who God is and why He did what He did. Each day I will be highlighting a portion of the story from Mary and Joseph to the angels, the shepherds and finally to the late arriving Magi. All of these tell us more and more about God’s character and assures us again and again that God is one to be trusted and believed. This miraculous story requires faith. Ephesians 2:8 reminds us “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—” Let us not take the faith for granted but encourage it to grow and develop this year as we seek to see through fresh eyes the story of the arrival of God’s precious Son, Jesus.

December 1 has a special place in my heart as I reflect on the precious gift of a daughter that God gave to me to love, cherish and nurture. She was just 3 months old and weighed less than 10 pounds when she arrived from Korea. What a fragile gift of love that was to our family. We got a call that she was arriving just the night before so we quickly booked flights to LAX and barely slept that night. When we arrived, I was hesitant and almost afraid to hold her. I stepped out in faith and embarked on the new adventure God had for me of being a mother. My fears were quickly gone as she immediately claimed my heart and opened new feelings to me. When we arrived back in Oakland, we were greeted by friends and family all ready to rejoice over the arrival of our long awaited daughter. All the while we were waiting for the adoption to progress, I clung to faith that God had a child for me. As we waited Psalm 37:3 is a good description of how you need to walk each day putting one foot in front of another, relying on God’s faithfulness. “Trust in the Lord and do good, dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. “

Walking in faith is a process of growth and sanctification as we grow more and more like Jesus. God gives us the Holy Spirit to indwell us. He confirms, affirms and assures us that our faith is real. Faith is real and alive to the believer. May you refresh your faith this season and may God increase you love for Him as you journey thought the Advent story with me.

Linda

Thankfulness in Prayer

November 12th and 13th

We are about midway through this month of gratitude and as we near Thanksgiving and all the preparations that go into that day let your mind and heart dwell on the why. Why are you personally thankful this year? Begin this weekend to speak words of thanks for your family, home, neighbors, cities and for our country. Instead of looking for what is wrong, focus on what is right and pray for those around you. Here is a prayer of thanks from Colossians 1. Paul begins by expressing his thanks for the faith of the Colossians. ” We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel .” (verses 3-4) Who do you know that you are thankful for their faith? Who’s faith has pointed you continually toward Jesus and the truth of God’s Word? Offer up your own thanks for those believers who strength and encourage your faith.

Paul continues in verses 9-14 “For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

What is Paul praying for the Colossian believers? In verse 9 Paul begins by asking that they will be filled with the wisdom and understanding provided by the Holy Spirit. He then continues and asks that the wisdom and understanding God will give them be applied to their lives so they will please God with their words and deeds. He wants them to produce fruit of the Spirit in the good works they are doing. He desires that they continue to grow in the knowledge of God. Paul wants them to be strengthened so that they may have patience, endurance and joy in their walk with Jesus. He wants them to remember the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and how he saved them from eternal death and darkness and brought them into a life of light and forgiveness.

This is a mighty prayer. Who do you know that you can pray this prayer for? Who do you know that needs empowerment for living like the Colossian Christians? You can replace the ‘you’s’ in this prayer with their name or your own. I challenge you to pray this prayer over them for several days, a week or even a month. Look for God’s transforming power in them and in yourself as you pray for others.

A truth to claim with thanksgiving: I have the ability to approach God. The idea of approaching God has been fraught with fear and trembling throughout the ages. However, if we look at Genesis Chapters 2 and 3 we see that in the beginning man existed in the garden and had a relationship with Almighty God. Adam and Eve did not fear God until they ate from the tree of knowledge, then they knew sin. Through the work of Jesus on the cross, we can now come near to God as we have a relationship with God again. Jesus has made us clean and presents us to the Father. I love Ephesians 3:12  In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” and Hebrews 4:16  Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” We can approach God on behalf of others, as Paul did for the Colossians, or for ourselves.

Prayer is a mighty privilege and through it we come into the presence of God Almighty. Use it wisely and often.

Linda