Advent Reflections

Three years ago I wrote the blog below on walking while waiting. This year I’ve been mulling over the idea of waiting again, and instead of reinventing the wheel, I thought I would bring this post back. This year I am waiting and praying for many things – time to slow down, a full-time job for my husband, the birth of our son, community and friends in our new town, the return of Jesus and making of all things new, and on goes the list. We are always waiting for something, aren’t we?

As we wait together, may this bring your heart encouragement as it does to mine.

From “Walking while Waiting”, Dec. 24, 2013:

Christmas snuck up on me this year. With Thanksgiving being so late, a visit with the grandparents in the middle of the month, and working up to Christmas Eve, the holiday has arrived and my heart feels rushed and unprepared. So on Sunday, as the final day of Advent drew to a close, I spent some time reading the story of Jesus’ birth from the gospels of Matthew and Luke. I was struck anew by the stories of waiting that surrounded this greatest day in history. Waiting is what Advent is all about – the hope of the coming Savior, the preparation for His arrival, the joy of His birth, and the love He showed in coming to earth.

Advent [noun]:

  • A coming into place, view, or being; arrival
  • The coming of Christ into the world
  • The period beginning four Sundays before Christmas, observed in commemoration of the coming of Christ
  • Middle English; Latin – Adventus; arrival, approach
  • Beginning or arrival of something anticipated

Beginning or arrival of something anticipated. Can you feel the excitement in the air? Imagine! The promise of a Savior…followed by 400 years of silence. An entire nation, waiting for the promised Messiah, anticipating the salvation and redemption He would bring.

As I read, these other examples stood out to me as well:

*Zacharias and Elizabeth get married, and then they wait for a baby. And they wait. And wait. And pray. And wait, until Elizabeth is long past child-bearing age and all hope seems lost forever.

*Zacharias is rendered mute, and has to wait at least 9 months before being able to share what God had spoken through the Angel Gabriel.

*Simeon is given a promise that he will not see death until his eyes have seen the Messiah. Old age begins setting in, and still no Messiah is appearing.

*Jesus himself waited 30 years to begin his public ministry.

Do you know what the Bible says about Zacharias, Elizabeth, and Simeon in the midst of their waiting? Luke 1:6 says that Zacharias and Elizabeth were “both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” And Luke 2:25 says that Simeon was “righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.”

Here are four thoughts from their example of walking faithfully with the Lord while waiting:

1. God’s sovereignty is sure, and His timing is perfect. At the exact appointed time, Elizabeth conceived John, Zacharias got to tell everyone about the glory and goodness of the Lord, Israel’s promised Messiah came, Simeon witnessed the dedication of Jesus, and Jesus began his public ministry. Not a day too early or too late, but exactly on the day each event was supposed to happen. Psalm 139:16 says “In your book were written ALL the days of my life before one of them came to be.” God is the one in control, and He brings all things to pass in His good timing and perfect plan.

2. Waiting is not painless, but the result makes it worth walking through the dark days. Imagine 400 years of silence from God. Or going through an entire pregnancy and birth with a husband who could not respond to you verbally. Or waiting years upon years for a child until hope seems lost. Or getting older and wondering each day if you would finally see the promised Messiah, wondering if you had properly heard the promise given. Or preparing for a public ministry knowing that it is going to end with your death and resurrection three short years later.

3. Obedience is not contingent upon God’s response. Zacharias, Elizabeth, and Simeon were all described as being faithful to follow God, even when they did not always know if or when an answer would come. Jesus was the only one who knew the end from the beginning. The others chose to trust God and walk in faithfulness each day regardless of what the outcome was. Again, their obedience was not contingent upon God’s response to them, but rather on the knowledge of who He is and their trust that He would fulfill His word (for more, check out Hebrews 10:23 and 2 Tim 2:13).

4. We can trust God with our future in the midst of waiting. Back to Psalm 139:16. He already knows every day of our future. He has gone before us, laying the way and offering to lead us on the path as our Light and Guide. Proverbs 3:5-6 calls us to trust in Him, lean not on our own understanding, and He will direct our paths. Psalm 119 is full of verses where David exalts the Lord as righteous and true, and declares the Word of God as trustworthy and and worth leaning our full weight upon.

What are you waiting for today? A baby, like Elizabeth? A new job? A spouse? Healing from an illness or chronic pain? An apology that never seems to arrive? The redemption of a friend or family member? An answer to a hard question? Direction on where you are supposed to go next? The return of Jesus and the making of all things new?

Whatever you are waiting for, I pray that you will be encouraged by this to continue trusting the Lord and walking faithfully with Him, no matter what may come. As you read the Christmas story, rejoice that the silence was broken, the Savior came, and through Him we have hope and salvation! See it with fresh perspective, and be reminded of God’s faithfulness, sovereignty, and perfect timing.

Merry Christmas, and may the peace of Jesus Christ be with you as you celebrate His birth.

Walking while waiting

Christmas snuck up on me this year. With Thanksgiving being so late, a visit with the grandparents in the middle of the month, and working up to Christmas Eve, the holiday has arrived and my heart feels rushed and unprepared. So, on Sunday, as the final day of Advent drew to a close, I spent some time reading the story of Jesus’ birth from the gospels of Matthew and Luke. I was struck anew by the stories of waiting that surrounded this greatest day in history. Waiting is what Advent is all about – the hope of the coming Savior, the preparation for His arrival, the joy of His birth, and the love He showed in coming to earth.

Advent [noun]:

  • A coming into place, view, or being; arrival
  • The coming of Christ into the world
  • The period beginning four Sundays before Christmas, observed in commemoration of the coming of Christ
  • Middle English; Latin – Adventus; arrival, approach
  • Beginning or arrival of something anticipated

Beginning or arrival of something anticipated. Can you feel the excitement in the air? Imagine! The promise of a Savior…followed by 400 years of silence. An entire nation, waiting for the promised Messiah, anticipating the salvation and redemption He would bring.

As I read, these other examples stood out to me as well:

*Zacharias and Elizabeth get married, and then they wait for a baby. And they wait. And wait. And pray. And wait, until Elizabeth is long past child-bearing age and all hope seems lost forever.

*Zacharias is rendered mute, and has to wait at least 9 months before being able to share what God had spoken through the Angel Gabriel.

*Simeon is given a promise that he will not see death until his eyes have seen the Messiah. Old age begins setting in, and still no Messiah is appearing.

*Jesus himself waited 30 years to begin his public ministry.

Do you know what the Bible says about Zacharias, Elizabeth, and Simeon in the midst of their waiting? Luke 1:6 says that Zacharias and Elizabeth were “both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” And Luke 2:25 says that Simeon was “righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.”

Here are four thoughts from their example of walking faithfully with the Lord while waiting:

1. God’s sovereignty is sure, and His timing is perfect. At the exact appointed time, Elizabeth conceived John, Zacharias got to tell everyone about the glory and goodness of the Lord, Israel’s promised Messiah came, Simeon witnessed the dedication of Jesus, and Jesus began his public ministry. Not a day too early or too late, but exactly on the day each event was supposed to happen. Psalm 139:16 says “In your book were written ALL the days of my life before one of them came to be.” God is the one in control, and He brings all things to pass in His good timing and perfect plan.

2. Waiting is not painless, but the result makes it worth walking through the dark days. Imagine 400 years of silence from God. Or going through an entire pregnancy and birth with a husband who could not respond to you. Or waiting years upon years for a child until hope seems lost. Or getting older and wondering each day if you would finally see the promised Messiah. Or preparing for a public ministry knowing that it is going to end with your death and resurrection three short years later.

3. Obedience is not contingent upon God’s response. Zacharias, Elizabeth, and Simeon were all described as being faithful to follow God, even when they did not always know if or when an answer would come. Jesus was the only one who knew the end from the beginning. The others chose to trust God and walk in faithfulness each day regardless of what the outcome was. Again, their obedience was not contingent upon God’s response to them, but rather on the knowledge of who He is and their trust that He would fulfill His word (for more, check out Heb 10:23 and 2 Tim 2:13).

4. We can trust God with our future in the midst of waiting. Back to Psalm 139:16. He already knows every day of our future. He has gone before us, laying the way and offering to lead us on the path as our Light and Guide. Proverbs 3:5-6 calls us to trust in Him, lean not on our own understanding, and He will direct our paths. Psalm 119 is full of verses where David exalts the Lord as righteous and true, and declares the Word of God as trustworthy and and worth leaning our full weight upon.

What are you waiting for today? A baby, like Elizabeth? A new job? A spouse? Healing from an illness or chronic pain? An apology that never seems to arrive? The redemption of a friend or family member? An answer to a hard question? Direction on where you are supposed to go next? The return of Jesus and the making of all things new?

Whatever you are waiting for, I pray that you will be encouraged by this to continue trusting the Lord and walking faithfully with Him, no matter what may come. As you read the Christmas story, rejoice that the silence was broken, the Savior came, and through Him we have hope and salvation! See it with fresh perspective, and be reminded of God’s faithfulness, sovereignty, and perfect timing.

Merry Christmas, and may the peace of Jesus Christ be with you as you celebrate His birth.

The Flipside

Last week in a meeting at work I had the opportunity to share a little bit of where my heart is in the midst of transition, with not being overseas, no longer serving as a supported missionary, now living in NoVA and working at MBC – many aspects of my life I am working through in this new season. As I shared about this not being where I thought I would be, one of my co-workers said this:

“There are two sides to every story, and the flipside of your story is that the Lord brought you here in part because we needed you. He brought you here to be a blessing to us at this specific time.”

Wow. I had not previously thought about the Lord keeping me here in that light, and I am thankful that she said those words. What a timely reminder of a great truth. The Lord often puts us in specific places to meet the needs of others, and to use us to bless those around us. And the greatest joy is in being a blessing to others, we are immeasurably blessed in return! In calling me to this place, at this time, and using my gifts and abilities to serve others, the Lord is continuing the process of sanctification and growing me to be more like Him. What joy is found in this spot!

The story of Abram is a great example of this. In Genesis 12, the Lord calls Abram to leave his country and everything he has ever known, to go to an unspecified place the Lord would show him only after he responded in obedience. As God is giving Abram his instructions, he says “I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing…” (v.2). If Abraham had refused to obey God, and stayed in his homeland, the impact of his life would have been limited. It was through his willingness to follow God’s leading no matter what, that a nation was born and a blessing came in abundance.

Abraham was blessed to be a blessing, and so are we today. The Lord has you exactly where you are supposed to be, and He has you there for a reason. It may have very little to do with you, and very much to do with the Lord using you to be a blessing to those around you.

One of my favorite quotes is from author Leo Tolstoy, who said:

Life is a place of service, and in that service one has to suffer a great deal that is hard to bear, but more often to experience a great deal of joy. But that joy can be real only if people look upon their life as a service, and have a definite object in life outside themselves and their personal happiness.

Who are you serving today? Take some time to thank the Lord for where He has you, and the ways He is using your life to bless others.

7 Statements that got Jesus Crucified

Jesus said a lot of controversial things in His three years of public ministry, enough to confuse some people and anger others to the point of desiring to have him murdered. At College Park’s Good Friday service last night, they had seven vignettes of statements that Jesus Christ made that incited the religious leaders to seek for His death on the cross. These religious leaders thought that by killing the rebel who was stirring up the people and making these claims they would be rid of Him for good. But, because the statements He made were completely true, they had no understanding that by killing their Messiah they were actually saving everyone who believed in Him.

1. “Before Abraham was, I AM” – John 8:58. It might sound like bad grammar, but in this statement Jesus is referring back to the story of Moses when God revealed His great and holy name “I AM who I AM”. Jesus was claiming equality with this God, saying that He too, existed before Abraham. To those who considered Him just a regular man, this was blasphemy. But this was no ordinary man…

2. “I and the Father are One” – John 5:10. Again, Jesus is speaking to the Jewish religious leaders of the day, claiming that He and God were completely equal on every level. If He was just a prophet, then this would have been blasphemy, and crazy talk for a Jew to compare himself to God.

3. “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me” – John 8:42. Here Jesus makes 2 bold claims. First, that they do not actually know the God they worship, because they have not recognized and loved Jesus. And second that Jesus came from God, making Himself out to be more than a prophet.

4. “Destroy this temple, and in 3 days I will raise it up” – John 2:19. The Temple was the very place where the Jewish people met God. It was the place of continual sacrifices, making atonement for their sin. In this statement Jesus is claiming to be a temple that will last forever. That the place of sacrifice is finished in His death and resurrection, and He is now the everlasting sacrifice for our sins. When He said it though, the people, including His own disciples, did not understand that He was going to rise from the dead.

5. “No one can come to Me unless granted to Him by the Father” – John 6:65. This statement made even some of His disciples turn away. Jesus was saying to them that salvation is not based on the works of the Law, or anything that they could do on their own effort, because our obedience will forever be incomplete. Our earthly minds would not naturally embrace this kind of salvation – our sin nature is hard wired to desire to earn favor based on our good behavior and deeds. It is only in the wooing of God Himself that we can be saved by faith.

6. “I am the bread that came down from heaven” – John 6:21. Jesus said this one day after breaking two loaves of bread in half and feeding 5,000 people. In this passage He refers back to the manna that was provided for the Israelites while they were wandering in the wilderness, and here claims to be greater than this bread. The disciples respond by asking Him to give us that bread always, and Jesus’ response is that He is the bread of Life, and anyone who eats of Him will never hunger again.

7. “But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” – Matt 26:64. Jesus made this statement while standing before the High Priest during His trial. The high priest asked Him to tell them plainly whether He is the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus answered by quoting two old testament passages – Psalm 110 and Daniel 7, effectively saying “yes, I am the Christ, the Son of God”. At this, the high priest tore His robes and called for Jesus to be crucified, showing us one of two ways we can handle Jesus. Either by refusing to believe His Word as true, rejecting Him as Messiah, attempting to put Him to death or ignore Him in an effort to continue in our own life. Or by believing that what He said was true, that He is the Messiah, and therefore surrendering our life to Him and believing that through Him alone we have salvation.

Even in light of these statements, Jesus still went to the cross on His own initiative. He chose to obey the Father and die, in order that we could truly live. Friday is called “good” because in the horror of the cross grace and salvation were born. In his song, Phil Wickham says “When blood and water hit the ground, walls we couldn’t move came crashing down. And we were free and made alive, the day that True Love died…”

As we reflect on and remember His death, take heart and lift up your head, because Sunday is coming…

 

Romans 1-3

I love to write out what I am memorizing as I finish chunks of scripture. It helps me synthesize and remember the passages, but this chunk is a bit daunting to think of writing by hand. So, please excuse this long post. I hope you are encouraged by Paul’s letter to the church in Rome as much as I am as I memorize this great letter.

Chapter 1:

Paul, a bond servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the Holy scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrections from the dead according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord; through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles, for His name’s sake, among whom you also are the called of Christ Jesus. To all those beloved of God in Rome, called as saints, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the entire world. For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you; always in my prayers offering request, that if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established. That is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the others faith, both yours and mine. I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you, but have been prevented thus far, that I may obtain some fruit from among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles. For I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, to the wise and to the foolish. So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are at Rome.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written “for the righteous man shall live by faith”. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them, for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man, and of birds, of four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

Therefore, God gave them over in the lust of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. Therefore God gave them over to degrading passions, for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire for one another; men with men committing indecent acts, and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to do those things which are not proper. Being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed evil; full of envy, murder, strife, malice, deceit; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, arrogant, insolent, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without knowledge, unloving, untrustworthy, unmerciful. And although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.

Chapter 2:

Therefore, you have no excuse, every one of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself, for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindess and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourselves in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to each person according to his deeds. To those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory, honor and immortality; eternal life. But to those who are selfishly ambitious, and do not obey the truth but obey unrighteousness; wrath and indignation.

There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Greek. But glory, honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God. For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law; but all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law. For it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. For when the Gentiles, who do not have the Law, do instinctively the things of the law, these, not having the Law, are a law unto themselves, in that they show the works of the Law written on their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, in that day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.

But, if you bear the name Jew, and rely upon the Law, and boast in God, and know His will, and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher to the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth. You therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one should not steal, do you steal? You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God?

For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you, as it is written. For indeed, circumcision is of value if you practice the law. But if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. And if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you, who, though having the letter of the Law and circumcision, are a transgressor of the Law? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter, and his praise is not from men, but from God.

Chapter 3:

Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect! First, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God. What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written “That you may be justified in your words and prevail when you are judged”. But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world? And if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, then why am I also still being judged as a sinner? And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim we say) “let us do evil that good may come”? Their condemnation is just.

What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin, as it is written: “There is none righteous, not even one. There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God. All have turned aside; Together they have become useless. Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep on deceiving. The poison of asps is under their lips. Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood. Destruction and misery are in their paths. The paths of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” 

Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those under the Law; that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God, because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. But now, apart from the Law, the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the prophets. Even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe, for there is no distinction. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God, He passed over the sins previously committed.

For the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just, and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed the God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith, is One. Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.

Amen. On to chapter 4!!!