It’s one thing to be happy to be yourself because your knowledge exceeds someone else’s. It is another thing entirely to sense the gap between what you know and what someone else knows, realize your knowledge exceeds theirs, and to praise the God of all knowledge for equipping you as He has. All useful knowledge bestowed on anyone is an act of grace and a cause for gratitude. It is not an opportunity for self-exaltation. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1).
I began reading the Gospel of Luke and didn’t make it through the first chapter before one of God’s blessed tendencies seemed to be forever recurring. Notwithstanding the rest of the Bible, how many times in this single chapter does God defy human expectations? I noticed, kind of a lot! So I wanted to look at it little bit…
Speaking of lots, in this chapter a priest named Zechariah is chosen by lot to go into the temple to burn incense (Luke 1:9). I don’t think Zechariah was really chosen by chance as being chosen by lot would suggest. This is one way God defies our expectations. What seems to happen by chance from our perspective, what may even seem inconsequential, is a note played right on cue in God’s beautifully orchestrated plan for the world.
So Zechariah goes into the temple and is greeted by Gabriel, an angel sent from God, who informs Zechariah he will have a son (Luke 1:12-15). But Zechariah is human like the rest of us and though he heard what Gabriel heralded, he questions this message from heaven because Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth are old and childless. Zechariah (as is often the way of people) receives a promise from God and immediately looks at his circumstances which cause him to doubt the fulfillment of said promise:
“Zechariah asked the angel, ‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years’” (Luke 1:18 NIV).
But just as God’s plans aren’t upended by choosing lots, neither are they thwarted by Zechariah and Elizabeth’s old age. As Zechariah stood by Elizabeth in her barrenness, Elizabeth stands by Zechariah after the angel Gabriel renders him mute for doubting what Gabriel foretold. For better or worse, in sickness and in health! So (what a pair) an old, barren Elizabeth and an old, mute Zechariah sure enough, are expecting one little John the Baptist by verse 24. They are expecting the unexpected.
This theme continues in Luke’s first chapter as Mary, a virgin, also finds herself expecting the unexpected, becoming pregnant herself with the Son of God. Becoming pregnant out of wedlock could have certainly destroyed her reputation at the time, but ultimately Mary was obedient and receptive to the Lord’s plan. She ends up with a reputation marked by the favor of God, even if some of her peers wouldn’t have seen her situation as favorable at the time.
How many saw their expectations challenged in these few instances? Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph and all those who bore witness to these events in their lives. God springs forth new life through otherwise unlikely circumstances, adding to our reality things we’d humanly tend to call “unrealistic”. But the Lord declares:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure forever.”
–Isaiah 55:8-13 (NIV)
Did you know that in 2015, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that Americans spend on average 41 minutes of their leisure time a day socializing and communicating? The amount of time we spend watching TV is quite a bit higher in comparison, coming in at an average of 2 hours, 47 minutes a day.
I went looking for these numbers after reading Hebrews 10:23-25 (NIV) because it got me thinking:
“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
And all the more as we near the time of Christ’s return, the Bible instructs us to spend more and more time encouraging each other, loving one another and spending time together.
But of course there might be someone out there who wants to know why that might be a wise thing to do. Well, what will be happening in the world as we near the return of Christ? Jesus said:
“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:9-14 NIV).
Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will run cold. But because of the increase of wickedness, we must be increasing the amount of time we spend encouraging each other and meeting together. We can rise up to unify and fortify the church through increased encouragement and fellowship, and this can help counter the increase of wickedness.
We all know America is a busy, constantly entertained, stressed out, distracted nation. So, are we actually doing the opposite of Hebrews 10:25, spending less and less time together as a church as we approach the Lord’s return? It is my prayer that we trade in some of our TV time to love each other, to be in fellowship together and to find renewed strength–and all the more as we see the Day drawing near.
Both Saul in the Old Testament and Judas in the New Testament were granted their positions by God, but were later rejected by Him and replaced. In the end, Saul fell on his own sword on the battlefield and Judas fell headlong, dying also by his own hands in another “field of blood”. They were both granted influence by God, but their lack of reverence for Him was their downfall in both physically gruesome and spiritually tragic ways. Fear of the Lord, though it may elude some, is not an option for the faithful. It is a necessity.
This was heavy on my heart this morning so I thought I’d share it…
The American Dream. If you achieve the American Dream and you look at your life in your 30’s or 40’s and see your house, your career, your car, your spouse, your kids, your retirement plan and you are a Christian—be careful. Don’t become the person who realizes the American Dream, then says, “Look! I made it. Look at all I have accomplished!” because when you acquire this attribution of your success to yourself, God may actually see weak Christianity, separated from being in the Spirit and in humility.
Our culture may hand us an acceptance letter for achieving the American Dream, but are we confusing this proverbial acceptance letter for God’s approval? If we didn’t realize God’s Dream for us, and we find ourselves impressed with our own competence, having reached the culture’s ideal but not God’s, there really may not be too much to get excited about in that moment, in terms of our spiritual condition.
Maybe this can account for the phenomenon of the “mid-life crisis”. After a period of time, people find they are unsatisfied with all they have worked for. Then they go seeking new (sometimes destructive) ventures, since they are experiencing the unfortunate consequences of a life built on sand.
How important is the American Dream to you, and do you know how to separate the American Dream from God’s plans? Hard work is virtuous and family is important and we can’t lose that, but dreaming with God is better than American dreaming this life away.
“The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown'” (Mark 4:14-20 NIV).
Maybe it’s time to take less seriously the pressures of the American Dream and reaffirm our dedication to the plan of God.
I remember as a child, age eight or nine, falling asleep in the living room while the rest of the family was still up watching television. I would fall asleep in this noisy, well lit, occupied room. Eventually, everyone else got tired, the TV was turned off and the living room was cleared out. I was left to sleep where I was on the couch, unaware that everyone had gone to bed.
I remember on these occasions, I would wake-up in the middle of the night and everything was so different compared to how it was when I fell asleep. Maybe somewhere in my consciousness, I was expecting to wake-up to everyone still sitting there. Instead, this great big, dark room with vaulted ceilings seemed to swallow me whole as I realized I was left there all alone. This icy, black expanse in the living room felt so lonely.
I’m sure the house itself made it easier to feel that way. It was an old house in Nevada that sat on a military base, which had become inactive years before. There were old sheets draped over the windows instead of curtains, furniture was scarce and bare, white walls kept the rooms separated instead of walls with family pictures that kept the family close. It wasn’t like my friend’s houses or the houses on TV. It was just blank. A house, but not a home.
I was always so persistent about having a nightlight in my room. It was a source of light, but also a source of comfort. So, if I woke up alone on the couch in the middle of the night, I longed for that little light in my room, but would also dread walking through the house in the dark to reach it. Finally, I would gather up the courage, get to my room, and soak up a little warmth from that nightlight.
Now, I can lay awake in the middle of the night after a difficult day, and still feel that same, familiar emptiness I woke up to as a kid bubbling up inside of me with feelings of being left behind—like the world went to bed without me.
I think sometimes we grow-up and we start to think we have it all together because we’re not afraid of the dark anymore. But the truth is, the darkness still makes us lonely and afraid sometimes. It’s just that maybe a giant, dark room isn’t what isolates us.
Whether or not I’m a child afraid of the dark, or a grown-up afraid of the pain, I hope it is always my first impulse to run toward the light for peace and warmth. We have a loving God who keeps us. So even in those times of quiet suffering, you and I always have a place to go for company, comfort and compassion.
I have heard some cynics say weak people just use Jesus as a crutch. I’m alright with crutches! Besides, haven’t you noticed how people on crutches seem to have doors opened for them all the time?
Anyway, kids aren’t wimps because they need nightlights and adults aren’t wimps because they need Jesus. It’s just the nature of this broken world and because the world is broken, we always need our need for Jesus.
Let’s be grateful for that need, because while Jesus is the biggest need we’ll ever have, He is so much bigger than anything, that He is not going to run out by the end of the month. You’re not going to run out of Jesus and be stranded in the middle of no where with no one to call. We run out of gas. We run out of time. We run out of money. Sometimes we even run out of clean socks, but God is never going to complain that we keep returning for more relationship with Him.
When we are weak, then we are strong–which means we are not strong because we are weak as much as we are strong when we admit our weakness to ourselves, then depend on God.
That little girl I used to be, gazing into my nightlight for an escape from the big, bad darkness finally grew up. Now I’m so blessed because I have a nightlight (don’t judge me) and Jesus!
This is just a little, long reminder today that it is ok to be in touch with your need for a “nightlight” or “crutches”.
“Trust in the LORD forever, For in GOD the LORD, we have an everlasting Rock” (Isaiah 26:4 NASB).
I went jogging the other morning—I know, my blog’s theme is walking, but it will be ok—and as I was breathing back to my car, and as the twilight disappeared over the mountain ridge, I found this rock. The rock grabbed my attention because I noticed someone had painted it with all these pretty colors.
Like a moth drawn to a flame, when I see something pretty on the ground, or anywhere, it strikes me as whimsical and every once in a while…just for me.
I picked it up, turned it over and noticed the words “love life” were written on the back. Surely, someone with a paintbrush and an encouraging spirit used this rock to breathe new life into my heart.
Even though I probably couldn’t run the Boston Marathon tomorrow, I know that God’s love will quicken my step to finish this spiritual race we Christians call life.
In the words of poetry from the book of Isaiah:
“Yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary” (Isaiah 40:31 NASB).
Friend, if you’re feeling “winded” in your spirit today, call upon the LORD and wait for His grace to show up in your path, and like a cup of water for your soul, He will be your refreshment. And by His strength we can…
Risk. In the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) the servant with one bag hid what had been entrusted to him because he didn’t want to lose it. Ultimately, he lost it anyway to the servant with ten bags. He wasn’t disadvantaged because he only had one bag. All three servants were equal in that they were entrusted with amounts according to their ability. The servant with one bag was disadvantaged because he let risk scare him into paralysis. Then what he didn’t want to lose, he lost anyway. If fear keeps you from trying, loss is certain. In this respect, the biggest risk is not taking any. Our choices are really try or fail, because it is only after roads are paved through trying, that success can find a place to land.
Today I’m thinking about everyone who has ever hurt me. I think they should only feel guilty about absolutely nothing. How helpful is it to carry around guilt? Jesus said I don’t have to carry around a bunch of condemnation and I love that about Him.
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2 NIV).
I think Joseph figured out why there comes a time when having hard feelings stops making any sense.
“And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you” (Genesis 45:5 NIV).
He decided to trade in his guilt messages for reconciliation. He forgave them, but also instructed them to not be distressed or upset with themselves. He let go of his brother’s trespasses and then loved them. He knew they walked around long enough feeling guilty about what they did to him. He had now let it go and he wanted them to experience life without feeling bad about their—we’ll call it—youthful indiscretion of selling him into slavery.
I really think the deepest depths of forgiveness are reached the moment that, not only have we forgiven, but we have also desired to see those nagging, guilty feelings disappear in the people who hurt us. That’s a wonderful place to be (in fact I plan to retire there).
Jesus cancels our own debt so thoroughly His forgiveness can, not only reconcile us to Him, but it will reconcile us to ourselves.
It would be my pleasure to extend the same gift of no distress to others who may have hurt me with the accompaniment of this lovely exhortation from the Scriptures…
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer” (2 Corinthians 1:3-6 NIV).
Most Gracious Blessings!
We can glorify God before people as Christians. Praise the Lord that He uses us for the fame of His name!
However, God is still glorified by the things we do in the Spirit that no person across the span of our earthly life will ever see or hear about.
“Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you” (Matthew 6:4 NLT).
Give in private or fast in private or pray in private (Matthew 6:6). And so, be a good steward of your privacy.
The Christian life isn’t compromised of only what others see Christians doing or Jesus wouldn’t have given instruction concerning godly secrecy. Private, secret faithfulness is an important step toward deeper waters (and what a beautiful way to do something with God, just you and the Father).
Our secret moments with the Lord—this facet of relationship that includes just God and His child—are found in the sweet whispers our heart speaks that are meant only for the ears of God, or the gifts we send with no return address so only God knows who the sender is.
These are valuable moments and we’re so blessed to be in on these holy secrets. If you’re going to have secrets in this lifetime, let them be ones that glorify God! 💜